Cross-border Trade and Accounting

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:07 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet 7:07 pm, 30th October 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Luke Graham on securing the debate. We came to a bit of a joint decision that it should happen around the time of the withdrawal agreement, because much of the debate on that has been about how borders will operate post Brexit. Jim Shannon obviously has concerns, as do I, about the differences between trade happening between GB and NI, between NI and GB, and across the Republic border. I think we all want those things to be as seamless as possible.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire said, we are not in the old world of wet stamps and guys with kepi caps on borders checking paperwork; we are very much in a new world where digital information is in place to make things work. I have had concerns—I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—about the push towards making tax digital, particularly for smaller traders, for which I can see very little use for it. However, bigger companies have naturally migrated away from the old systems of Kalamazoo and paper-based things of years of old—you have to be a very old accountant to remember those—to entirely digital systems. VAT returns now have to be sent completely digitally, with details of all the transactions underlying them.

Therein lies the solution to many of the problems raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire mentioned the VIES system, which is already live in Northern Ireland. There is also the CHIEF—customs handling of import and export freight—system and economic operators registration. We are in a new world, but for people to say that intra-EU trade is somehow seamless and completely frictionless is simply not true.