I beg to move,
That provision (including provision imposing and regulating new duties of customs) may be made in connection with goods in Northern Ireland and their movement into and out of Northern Ireland (whether the movement begins or ends in Great Britain or elsewhere).
It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker.
In less than a month’s time, the UK will reach the end of the transition period and resume its place as a fully sovereign trading nation. As colleagues across the House will be aware, our negotiations with our counterparts in the EU continue. The Government remain cautiously optimistic about the conclusion of those talks. However, there is no doubt that we have a responsibility to the people of the United Kingdom to be ready for every outcome. The measures contained in the Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill, which will be introduced and published following this debate, will play an important part in those preparations. The Bill will help to give confidence and certainty to the owners of businesses small and large throughout the United Kingdom after the end of the transition period.
Will my right hon. Friend explain exactly how this matter we are dealing with now will be affected by the statement made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about an hour ago, which also deals with the question of goods to be considered not at risk, and with questions relating to customs and tariffs, and the decision that appears to have been taken that the Government have agreed in the Joint Committee with Mr Šefčovič on a number of matters of which at the moment we only have an outline? I know the Chancellor will make a statement tomorrow, but perhaps my right hon. Friend could assist us in this matter, because it quite clearly has relevance to what he is saying now.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the question, and I will touch on it in my remarks in my opening speech, but I should say to him that I am not better sighted on the breaking news than he is. He will have ample opportunity to address this matter tomorrow with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he comes to the House. As my hon. Friend will be aware, this matter was a product of a joint negotiation with the Commission, and the UK Government do not control the timing of that, and therefore the Chancellor will come at the earliest opportunity to the House to discuss the matter with colleagues from all political parties.
Today’s debate is on the important but technical ways and means motions that we need to pass before the Bill is debated tomorrow. If I may, I will talk a little about the Bill’s key elements in greater depth in order to foreshadow what we are going to see over the next day or so. The Bill will take forward important changes to our tax system to support the smooth continuation of business across the UK. In particular, it will ensure that we meet our commitments to the people and businesses of Northern Ireland in relation to the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. It will help to uphold our pledge to protect the UK’s internal market by ensuring that Northern Ireland goods have unfettered access to Great Britain. To that end, the Bill will set out a new framework for the UK’s customs, VAT and excise systems following the end of the transition period, so that there are clear rules in place for goods movements.
If I may, I will start with the areas of the Bill that relate to customs. The motion before us relates to legislation that will be required for customs duties and processes to support the practical implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. I want to underline to right hon. and hon. Members that the legislation follows directly from the commitments made in the Government’s Command Paper on the implementation of the protocol, which was published in May of this year. The House will recall that the Northern Ireland protocol guaranteed no checks or controls at the Northern Ireland-Ireland land border and maintained the UK as a single customs territory.
The legislation will achieve its aims through a series of targeted changes to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018, focusing on five specific areas. First, the changes will ensure that EU goods imported to Northern Ireland from the European Union—for example, goods moved across the Ireland-Northern Ireland border—are not subject to customs duties or processes.
Secondly, the changes will introduce a framework for charges on goods arriving in Northern Ireland, both from Great Britain and from the rest of the world, that are considered at risk of moving into the EU, subject to conditions agreed under article 5 of the Northern Ireland protocol.
Thirdly, these alterations to the TCTA will establish the framework for the UK Government to offer waiver and reimbursements for tariffs that are still incurred when that is needed.
Fourthly, the customs aspect of the legislation will ensure that the UK’s customs regime applies to goods moved from Northern Ireland to Great Britain if they do not qualify for unfettered access. Anti-avoidance rules will prevent goods from being re-routed through Northern Ireland in order to enter Great Britain without undergoing UK import processes.
Finally, the rules will ensure that customs enforcements, penalty, review and appeal provisions in relation to duty can continue to work alongside EU legislation in Northern Ireland and can apply where required in relation to movements of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
I will, if I may, respond to my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, who raised the point earlier. He was right to point to the EU-UK joint statement that has just been made. This sets out the agreement in principle regarding the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. The Government are therefore not introducing the so-called notwithstanding provisions to the taxation Bill. In the light of that, the Opposition’s proposed amendment to the first motion is unnecessary.
This Bill will also allow us to amend and modify certain provisions in relation to VAT and excise, including mechanisms to ensure that, in so far as is possible, VAT will be accounted for in exactly the same way as it is today. In addition, the Bill will make provision for amending current legislation for excise duty to be charged when excise goods, such as alcohol, tobacco and certain fuels, are removed to Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
As my right hon. Friend knows extremely well, all these matters relating to the Northern Ireland protocol and the withdrawal agreement have direct relevance to the question of sovereignty. A statement was made by the Paymaster General yesterday relating to the question of negotiations, but the matters that have just been raised by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in his statement to the press and to the public, but not to this House so far, have not been dealt with properly, because that statement has not yet been made to the House of Commons, although it has been published in general.
The point that I wish to make is simple and I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend addressed it. In withdrawing the “notwithstanding” provisions—clauses 45, 46 and 47 of the internal market Bill—which have a direct relevance to the question of sovereignty, does he have any comment to make and could he please help the House to understand, if these provisions are being withdrawn from the internal market Bill and will not be introduced in the taxation Bill, for which he does have responsibility, what are the implications for sovereignty with respect to what has been announced? I understand that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will make further comment tomorrow.
I thank my hon. Friend for having another go at this issue. Let me address the questions that he raises. I do not accept the point that he tries to make about whether this is, in some sense, an inappropriate procedure. As I have indicated, this is a product of a joint negotiation. The UK did not control the timing. It is as agreed with the other party to the debate and the discussion.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be coming to this House at the earliest opportunity once he returns from Brussels, in order to make a statement to discuss this and to receive scrutiny from my hon. Friend and from other Members of the House. That seems to me entirely appropriate. I cannot, of course, comment on matters relating to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, but what I will say is that, in withdrawing these “notwithstanding” provisions, we do not regard that UK sovereignty is being in any way impeded or undermined—on the contrary. Therefore, I think his concern can be and should be allayed, but I leave it to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to address those points tomorrow.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee heard evidence this morning that the IT systems and processing procedures to allow the Northern Ireland protocol to be implemented on
I think the hon. Gentleman knows that the work that we are doing in terms of legislation very much has as its counterpart a great effort to put in place all the procedures that may be required. Significant work has been done. He will be aware that there is a trader support service that works directly with people who will be importing into Northern Ireland to make it as close to a one-stop-shop arrangement as possible. What we are discussing today is the framework for the law under which those movements will operate.
The Minister has not yet reassured me about the sovereignty issue. Is it not the case that when any good in commercial quantity comes into the UK across any border—Northern Ireland or one of our marine borders—there are usually VAT and excise adjustments to be made and those take place by computer, not actually at the port of entry? Why do we need special arrangements here?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that under the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol, we have agreed arrangements for Northern Ireland with the European Union. The goal of the legislation is to make sure that, as far as possible, it is a completely seamless and straightforward process for those who are trading and that it is unfettered in regards to trade from Northern Ireland into Great Britain. That seems to me to be a very important technical fact.
On the VAT issue, which comes to the sovereignty issue once again, under article 8 of the Northern Ireland protocol, Northern Ireland traders will be subject to not just UK VAT rules, but EU VAT rules. Do the provisions that the Minister is now putting forward exempt Northern Ireland traders from being subject to dual VAT rules, given the costs that that would present and the huge administrative issues which would arise from it?
We do not expect the vast majority of any trade into Northern Ireland to be subject to any dual VAT arrangements. The whole purpose of these rules is to put in place the simplest and most straightforward arrangements that can be put in place and that replicate in so far as possible the current experience that people will have when they trade with the EU.
The Minister has said that he would not expect that Northern Ireland traders will be subject to VAT rules of another jurisdiction, but article 8 of the protocol makes it clear that they will be subject to a dual VAT regime. Do these provisions remove that requirement from all traders in Northern Ireland, or are we giving away some of our sovereignty by accepting that some parts of the United Kingdom and some sectors in that part of the United Kingdom will be subject to VAT rules from another jurisdiction?
I am afraid that inadvertently the right hon. Gentleman has misrepresented my position, or misdescribed my position. I am saying that we are following the Northern Ireland protocol and, therefore, following any provisions that he refers to, but what we are doing is putting in place mechanisms that make them as easy and as facilitated as possible, so that the experience of someone trading in Northern Ireland should be as close as possible to that which they would have today.
The Bill will allow us to amend or modify certain provisions in relation to VAT and excise, including mechanisms to ensure that, in so far as possible, VAT will be accounted for in the same way as it is today, as I have said. In addition, it will make provision for amending current legislation for excise duty. Most of these changes are necessary to ensure that there is comprehensive VAT and excise legislation in place in relation to Northern Ireland at the end of the transition period.
In addition to those steps, there is also a small number of other taxation measures that need to be in place before the end of the transition period. They include provision for an increase in the rate of duty on aviation gasoline, which will apply across the UK. Otherwise known as avgas, the fuel is a form of leaded petrol predominantly used in private aviation.
I notice the Minister said private aviation. Is the Treasury going to look at hydrocarbon fuel duty overall? Kerosene is zero duty rated, which is ridiculous, when motorists pay duty. We need a system in which the duty is applied to kerosene used by airlines, but given the fragile state of the flight industry, we should perhaps do that in a cost-neutral way to it and the Treasury, by incentivising the use of sustainable fuels. Is that something that the Treasury would look at?
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s ingenuity in bringing this matter into a debate that has no direct relevance to that issue at all. I, like him, would like to see as green and sustainable a world as we can arrange. This is a measure that does not relate to kerosene; it relates to avgas, and it has to do with the need to harmonise—or rather, to manage—the relationship between Northern Ireland and the UK, and that is what we are seeking to do. The requirement for an increase is set out in the Northern Ireland protocol—again, it relates only to Northern Ireland—but we are expanding it to the whole of the UK to ensure consistency, to avoid burdens on business, and to reduce compliance risks for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It is extremely small in its magnitude.
The Bill will also make provision for the introduction of a new system for collecting VAT on goods entering the UK. This includes moving the VAT collection on certain imported goods away from the border, and removing the VAT relief on low-value consignments. Together, these provisions will help to level the playing field for UK businesses, and they will protect the UK high street from VAT-free imports. The Bill will also take forward measures to ensure that the Government retain their ability to prevent insurance-premium tax avoidance after the end of the transition period. This will provide Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs with access to the same tools to prevent insurance- premium tax evasion—sorry, I should have said “evasion” rather than “avoidance” earlier—regardless of whether or not an insurer is based in an EU member state.
Finally, the Bill will make provision for new powers that will enable HMRC to raise tax charges under the controlled foreign companies legislation for the period from 2013 to 2018. This technical provision will deal effectively and efficiently with the legacy state aid decision relating to the period before the UK left the European Union.
I wonder why, if the Bill is so technical and dry, and does not have much relevance to the statements that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is making outside the House, we cannot see a copy. Why do we have to listen to the Minister tell us all about it, but none of his hon. Friends or my colleagues on this side of the House can prepare properly to respond?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. What I am actually doing is giving him a preview of a Bill that will be published in the normal way, after the resolutions debate has concluded. This is a debate on the resolutions required to lay the Bill, and we will do so as soon as the debate has concluded and the measures have been voted on. At that point, he will have a chance to see the Bill and its details.
In view of the statement that has been made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—a press statement has been put out; we do not have enough notice of that at the moment—will my right hon. Friend explain whether the Bill, which we will receive in a few moments, or whenever the ways and means resolution has been completed, will contain those notwithstanding provisions? On the basis, as I understand it, that it will not, as the Minister responsible for the Bill which is being brought in, I think, would he not know that the notwithstanding provisions had been removed? Presumably, they are not contained in the Bill—or are they?
I salute my hon. Friend’s astonishing indefatigability, but I am afraid his memory plays him false. I have already said that the notwithstanding provisions will not feature in this Bill. I said that earlier in my speech, but I am sorry that that was not as clear as it should have been, because that is the state of affairs.
This Bill will help the UK to cement its position as an independent trading nation at the end of the transition period. It will give businesses throughout the UK certainty about the arrangements that will apply from
I beg to move amendment (a), at end add
but any such provision must not place the United Kingdom in breach of its obligations under the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community which entered into force on
It is 1,629 days since the UK voted to leave the European Union. In that time, our country has managed two general elections, and we are now on to our third Conservative Prime Minister. It is just 23 days until the United Kingdom’s transition period following its exit from the European Union comes to an end, yet this afternoon, we still have little clarity on the Bill that the Government tell us they will present tomorrow to set the legal framework for future taxation in Northern Ireland, for value added tax, for aviation fuel duty, for insurance-premium tax and for state aid rules.
With less than four weeks to go, the single sheet of A4 in front of us is almost all the detail that the Government have shared with Parliament about their new tax plans for next month. The only other information we have is that, just over two hours ago, the Government confirmed that they would withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and that the provisions of the Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill would reflect the same approach. The Minister recently tabled a written ministerial statement to that effect, although he offered little more this afternoon by way of further clarity.
The clock has been ticking ever more loudly. People in this country might reasonably have assumed that by this late date, it would already be clear what the Government’s plans for Britain’s future were. They might have assumed that by this late date, there would be a clear agreement on our future relationship with the European Union.
Time is ticking. We want to get a deal. We are frustrated that at this point, we still do not have a clear understanding about our future relationship. If the hon. Member shares those concerns, I suggest that he raises them with his own Prime Minister.
People in this country—especially those who live near our 300-mile border with the European Union, or those who live in or near our port towns and port cities —could be forgiven for expecting that trading relationships and rules on the movement of goods would long since have been finalised. Such reasonable assumptions would not have been partisan. After all, we have the Prime Minister’s own word for it: to leave with no deal would be a “failure of statecraft”.
One thousand six hundred and twenty-nine days is a very long time in which Ministers have chosen not to address the issues that leaving the European Union raises. It is 1,421 days since the Government announced that we would be leaving the single market. It is 1,350 days since the Government notified the EU of the United Kingdom’s decision to trigger article 50. It is 1,240 days since the Brexit talks began and 886 days since the Chequers plan was announced to the current Prime Minister by the previous Prime Minister. It is a little over 500 days since the Prime Minister took office. It is 320 days since the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 became law. They have had ample time.
That is, frankly, a ludicrous statement for the right hon. Gentleman to make.
With epic irresponsibility, successive Conservative Governments have wasted this time. Still businesses are not clear how they will be trading next month. Still people living along our land border with Ireland are unsure what daily life will bring in four weeks’ time. That epic irresponsibility comes in two forms. First, there is the immediate irresponsibility—the irresponsibility to businesses and working people; to everyone who needs to be able to plan their future and their finances; to everyone who wants the simple security, stability and certainty that a responsible Government should provide; to everyone who believed the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he said on the “Today” programme a year ago tomorrow,
“We won’t need to plan for no deal because we will have a deal”; and to everyone who believed the former International Trade Secretary when he told us that a trade deal with the EU would be
“one of the easiest in human history.”
That irresponsibility has meant months and years of uncertainty and insecurity for so many families and so many firms. Make no mistake: the Conservative party has now lost forever any claim to be the party of business. That irresponsibility means that people in Fermanagh, Galloway, Anglesey, Kent and all around our key ports today still face the risk of their roads being clogged with queues of lorries for months on end. That irresponsibility—a failure to engage with the problems of our country, to look ahead and to plan, to lead and to rise to the level of events—is sadly of a piece with the Government’s wider failures in recent months.
The country has suffered terribly from the pandemic: the worst economic hit in the G7; the worst level of excess deaths in Europe; a Government who are again and again caught on the hop, scrambling to catch up with the consequences of their own incompetence; a Government who never use the time they have to get ahead of the problems that they know are coming. It is all too familiar. It is the story of everything that this Government touch.
If the Government had got ahead of the issues that our country faces, we would have had a Budget, not a statement, in the summer. Instead of multiple episodes of the winter economy plan, we would have had a Finance Bill with proper time for debate, and proper time for businesses to plan on that basis. But just as the Government were behind the curve on covid, so they are behind the curve on Brexit. And here we are, with tax decisions for next month being bundled together into a last-minute Bill, which they have not yet even published—inaction, incompetence, and scrambling to fix the mess that they have created themselves, again and again, month after month.
I am awfully grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Could she possibly name any EU treaty that has not been concluded by the EU at the last minute?
I look forward to seeing in detail what the Government intend to bring forward on our future trading relationship, as that will determine so much around what our businesses will need for years into the future. I believe that our country is a great place to do business. I want all our businesses to succeed into the future. That is why it is so important that we see a good deal for our country, and that the Government use the time they still have available to them well. They have not done so yet. I look forward to hearing more from the Minister later about exactly what the Government intend to set out in this legislation, because he has not really offered a great deal so far this afternoon.
The Government’s irresponsibility has not been limited to inaction and incompetence in the face of a ticking clock. There is also the greater irresponsibility that we have seen in recent months—an irresponsibility of which I fear the consequences may last for generations—and that is the irresponsibility with which this Government have made it clear that they are prepared to break international law. The world will not forget that just weeks ago the Government introduced legislation to tear up an international agreement that was signed less than a year ago. We welcome the fact that they now propose to withdraw those measures, but we fear that the damage has been done. The Government threatened to break the law to get their own way. What message does that send to Britain’s friends and allies with whom we have signed that agreement, with whom we have other agreements and with whom we hope to conclude future agreements?
You talked about the notwithstanding clauses as irresponsible and said that the damage may have been done, but would you like to join me in welcoming the Government reaching an agreement in the Joint Committee, as was announced just a couple of hours ago, on the issues that those clauses were intended to address?
In fact, I had just indicated that very point. Everyone on the Opposition Benches is delighted that the Government have in recent days managed to conclude a trade deal with North Macedonia, but what message does it send to our friends in the USA, who have made their position on this point very clear, that the Government no longer regard it as at all times non-negotiable that they will uphold the rule of law? It is because of our concerns on that point that we have tabled the selected amendment to the first resolution. We wish to append the text of the first resolution, at the end, with a clear limitation that provisions under that resolution may not place this country in breach of its obligations under law. The amendment would insert new text at the end of the current text of the first resolution to ensure that
“any such provision must not place the United Kingdom in breach of its obligations under the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community…and specifically its obligations under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland of that Agreement.”
Obviously, in the last two hours the Government have announced that they have reached an agreement in principle with the European Union on that protocol and will therefore resile from their expressed intention to enact legislation that would have breached those agreements. Of course, Opposition Members welcome that news, even as we find it astonishing that it should ever have been delivered and shambolic that it arrives so late. We would not, until this autumn, have ever imagined it necessary to make it clear in a resolution of the House that the Government, in exercising their powers, must obey international agreements into which they freely entered. Yet, as a result of the deep irresponsibility of the Government, that is precisely where we find ourselves today. We will not oppose the substantive resolutions, and we shall wait to see what further reassurances the Minister can provide before deciding whether to press our amendment to a vote.
We recognise that there needs to be a lawful basis for the collection of VAT, customs duties, aviation fuel duty and insurance premium tax, even while we do not yet know what the Government propose to table by way of a Bill. Let me repeat that: we do not yet know what the Government propose to table by way of a Bill—less than 24 hours before its Second Reading and Committee of the Whole House. Less than a month before we leave the European Union, we simply do not know with any certainty what measures the Government intend to set out. This extraordinary state of affairs undermines the ability of Members to give such important legislation the scrutiny it rightly deserves, not to mention the ability of businesses to plan. Is the Minister really telling us that it was not possible before today to set out the Government’s proposals on aviation fuel duty or insurance premium tax? Of course it was. These clauses were held back—they still are—so that the Government could, until a few hours ago, continue to brandish the threat of breaking international law as part of their negotiating tactics with the European Union, believing they have an ace up their sleeves, when in fact the whole world sees the Government as a pack of jokers.
Although we will not oppose these resolutions, we cannot and will not vote for any measures that the Government introduce that would breach agreements into which this country has entered with her friends and allies, because the consequences of such unlawful acts have been made clear to us. The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives said:
“The U.K. must respect the Northern Ireland Protocol as signed with the EU to ensure the free flow of goods across the border. If the U.K. violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement passing the Congress.”
I note the hon. Lady’s concern for Northern Ireland, the Good Friday agreement and the people of Northern Ireland, but does she not recognise that if the protocol goes through in its present form, the EU has made it clear that it will require measures to be implemented that have already led to supermarkets saying that they will no longer operate in Northern Ireland—that they will withdraw from Northern Ireland? The goods that would be supplied from here to Northern Ireland will no longer be supplied. I am only talking about one limited area. How can she defend that protocol, which would so adversely affect people in Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I understand the point he raises, but I am afraid I do not share his assessment of the situation. I say to him sincerely that I think it is important that we have certainty around this area. The Government’s approach on this has been misguided and has caused real damage. However, while understanding his concerns, I am afraid I do not recognise his assessment of the situation.
We hope the commitments announced earlier today by Ministers will be further repeated in this place, and that the assurances regarding the withdrawal of the offending clauses of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will be honoured. Ensuring that the UK’s forthcoming tax legislation does not breach our international treaty commitments, and in so doing put the Good Friday agreement at risk, is the sole purpose of our amendment. I do not doubt that there will be those on the Government Benches who regard such an amendment as weakening their hand, even as they too welcome the Government’s recent announcement. To them, seeking to legislate to break international law may have seemed a way of showing that they mean business. The delusion would be comic were the consequences not so grave. A negotiation in which one party makes it clear that it cannot be trusted—not inadvertently, but by what passes for strategy—is not one on which strong future relationships will be built, nor one that will commend us to other nations as a reliable partner for trade or security. What the Government have tossed away this autumn in the search for a fleeting advantage is a reputation that will take our country many years to regain.
Ways and Means resolutions enable the House to give effect to the taxation decisions of the Government for the year ahead. Some of those taxes and duties will fall more heavily on some of us than others. But for the Government’s extraordinary irresponsibility, which today’s events illustrate so powerfully, I fear the price will be paid by all of us, not just next month or next year but for many years to come.
I have already made a number of comments to the Minister in charge of this motion, also in respect of the Bill that we have not yet seen. It seems quite extraordinary, if I may say so, that we are being asked to give such blanket agreement to the Ways and Means resolution, which is the manner in which the money is raised to deal with the questions that arise in respect of the Bill, when we have not actually seen a copy of the Bill itself and therefore do not know what the provisions refer to.
I see, for example, that the motion includes reference to amending section 9A of the Value Added Tax Act 1994, part 3 of the Value Added Tax (Place of Supply of Goods) Order 2004, schedule 4B to that Act, which relates to call-off stock arrangements, section 18A of that Act, which affects fiscal warehousing, and paragraph 114(2) of schedule 8 to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018. It also includes proposals relating to the rate of fuel duty on aviation gasoline, amending section 6(1A)(aa) of the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979. It also deals with value added tax questions relating to such matters, and makes provision regarding value added tax in cases involving
“supplies of goods by persons established outside the United Kingdom that are facilitated by online marketplaces”, or
“the importation into the United Kingdom of goods of a low value.”
There are also provisions relating to the insurance premium tax in respect of the liability of the insured, amending section 65 of the Finance Act 1994, and matters relating to the recovery of unlawful state aid in respect of controlled foreign companies, in particular dealing with the Commission decision of 2019 relating to state aid
“concerning the CFC Group Financing Exemption.”
That gives some indication of the breadth, and also the depth, of these matters. It is very difficult, to put it bluntly, to dissect, comment on and make what I would describe as a full analysis of a provision that we have not yet seen, and as I had not actually seen these—nor did I know that they were going to be included until I got notice of them just now—I am not in a position to be able to do more than to say that I regard the whole question of these provisions as something that will obviously have to be dealt with when we actually see the Bill. What we have not seen, we cannot really comment on. It is really almost Alice in Wonderland, isn’t it? The fact remains that there are important issues of principle in relation to all this, and the notes that I have received raise some interesting questions. I do not know whether those notes have been made generally available.
Will my hon. Friend comment on the sovereignty issue, which is at the heart of all this? I was not satisfied by the Minister’s reply, when my hon. Friend was asking very good questions. Does he share my worry that we have not solved the sovereignty issue over Northern Ireland in this provision, and that we are making it worse?
My right hon. Friend might have anticipated that I would raise this very question with the Minister, as I did when he was in mid-flow at the beginning of these proceedings. That was the question I asked, and my right hon. Friend has now referred to it. I am extremely supportive of the Government in relation to Brexit and to the statements that have repeatedly been made not only by the Prime Minister but by other members of the Cabinet, including the Paymaster General in the statement that she made yesterday, in which the word “sovereignty” was completely reaffirmed and stated over and over again, and I take the Government at their word. But of course issues of the kind that we are dealing with do get somewhat obscured sometimes by provisions of legislation, particularly when we have not seen the legislation but are asked to comment on it. That makes life quite difficult in being able to identify with precision exactly what effect this would have on the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, save only to say that yesterday the House of Commons, by a majority of something like 90, passed provisions in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, and one would therefore have expected the Bill that is under consideration now—which must have been prepared yesterday when we were debating the other one, because otherwise it could not have been printed—to have contained similar provisions.
I am left in a bit of quandary until we can see that this Bill does not contain the notwithstanding provisions that were put in yesterday, which the House decided on, in principle, in the interests of sovereignty. I know a bit about that. I was also responsible for section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, which was passed by a majority of 120 with notwithstanding provisions in it at the beginning of the year. So for practical purposes, the principle of whether notwithstanding provisions are needed has already been established.
I repeat that I am very supportive of the Government and very supportive of the Prime Minister, and I make that absolutely crystal clear, but that makes it absolutely essential for us to have a very clear understanding about the reasons for withdrawing the provisions that were passed in respect of this Bill and were passed in respect of the other Bill yesterday, on the same principles of sovereignty as would need to be put forward under section 38 of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act, which, by the way, is still in statute and can still be used —and will be, I hope, as we move forward.
The Government are withdrawing these provisions of the Bill, which is presumably done for some reason that I cannot quite get but is to do with managing to assuage some of the hostility in the House of the Lords and the hostility that has led the European Union and the Commission to threaten legal proceedings unless we withdraw them. No doubt all this is being done in an attempt to arrive at some sensible or other kind of conclusion and settlement.
Is it not up to Parliament to withdraw the provisions that we were asked to support, and did support, yesterday? Was there not a long debate in which my hon. Friend made a contribution, while I was arguing the case elsewhere? Were we wasting our time? It seems to me that Parliament needs to be asked again if Ministers have changed their minds.
It is extremely important to point out that these notwithstanding provisions are directly related to the issue of sovereignty, but also related to the substance of our leaving the European Union. Not until we see a copy of the Bill will we be able to make the judgment about the extent to which they would impair or affect that sovereignty. We will have to wait until tomorrow to see exactly what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster presents to the House. We have an outline, but no more than that. The question of sovereignty will no doubt be much discussed tomorrow during his statement.
I heard the Opposition spokesman declaiming, in line with the amendment that they have tabled, that this is all about breaches of international law. I have to say to the hon. Lady that in the context of the continuous provisions on a whole range of matters, including Finance Bills that the Labour party was responsible for bringing in when it was in government, there are stacks—hosts—of treaty overrides. As I said in my contribution yesterday, such overrides have been passed as Labour party proposals when it was in government, by the coalition in 2010 and the years following that when the Liberal Democrats were involved, and also in some Conservative measures that have been passed that are overrides of international law. I pointed out yesterday that it has been done in the past for very good reasons of national interest, including economic national interests, as they clearly have been in the past. Some of them were hugely important constitutional issues—for example, affecting the independence of India and Pakistan—and there were other provisions that I will not go into in detail now, but I have put them all out there on the record.
The extraordinary thing is putting down this amendment based on so-called breach of international law, when actually the Labour party itself has done exactly the same in consistency with—not inconsistent with, but in consistency with—international law. Article 46 makes this abundantly clear. I was very glad that my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill conceded that point on the Floor of the House yesterday when he said, at last, that he was going to support the Government on this question. Lord Judge, a very distinguished judge in the House of Lords—the ex-Lord Chief Justice—who has been leading the argument on the question of international law, has said, in effect, that in principle he knew there was a moment at which there were circumstances whereby a given Government would be entitled to take such steps as were necessary in order to protect the national interest.
Nothing could be more important than protecting our sovereignty. That is what this whole Brexit is about. It is about being able to ensure our having left the European Union lawfully by having passed all the Acts of Parliament—and the House of Lords having passed all those Acts of Parliament as well—and in addition to that, having had a referendum on the votes of the people of this country, which itself was based on the authorisation by Parliament that the referendum should be allowed to take place. That was passed in the House of Lords and the House of Commons—in the House of Commons, incidentally, by six to one—and it was followed, as I have said, by a series of other enactments.
The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 was passed by 499 to 120, including by the Labour party, so there should not be any question about that, and I do not believe that the Labour party has anything to gain by trying to argue that somehow or other we have unlawfully left the European Union, which is what it seems to be implying in its amendment. Then we move on to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, which, as I pointed out in an intervention, was passed by 120 in this House on Second Reading. It contained the notwithstanding provisions, in section 38, that I had proposed to the Government on
I can almost hear somebody on the Government Benches perhaps thinking to themselves, “Well, they’re not needed because, actually, the situation has now been firmly dealt with in the Joint Committee”. Of that we know nothing, more or less, because I have asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster three times to appear in front of our European Scrutiny Committee, and thus far he has not come on these matters. He knows that, and I have had some very diligent, shall we say, correspondence with him on his not attending, although he did allow the Paymaster General to come and she did appear before us a few weeks ago.
The point I am making is that this is a critical time in our history. This is the moment when we regain our sovereignty. It is not just a philosophical statement or a constitutional theory; it is actually about the practicality of how this country is governed. It is as simple as that. We are governed by a constitutional arrangement under which, through parliamentary government, the Members of Parliament who are who are elected by the voters pass laws that are imposed upon the people by the consent of those representatives. It is as simple as that.
Absolutely, which was precisely why I brought it forward. It solved a lot of problems.
I must say that the reasons for the notwithstanding provisions in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill were based on the same principle of sovereignty, and the same applies to the taxation Bill, in which it was understood that the notwithstanding provisions would be included. I have not seen the Bill yet—I wait to see it with interest—but I am assuming that the adjustment will not appear. Therefore, I reserve my position with respect to the question of the notwithstanding arrangements, because I need to be satisfied that there is no impugnment of our sovereignty by virtue of the removal of those provisions in this Bill. It is as simple as that. I could say much more, but I do not think it will be strictly speaking necessary for me to do so, because I have dealt with all the matters of principle that arise.
I am not quite sure how authoritative the material I have been supplied with is, only because it was given to me by somebody associated with the Government and I am not at all sure whether it is in the Library of the House of Commons; all I can say that it is quite extensive and that it deals with a lot of matters that the Minister has already dealt with and that no doubt will be further examined when we get to see the Bill itself. However, I notice that it does include such matters as the fact that, whatever the outcome of the FTA and joint committee negotiations,
“we have an obligation to the people of Northern Ireland to make sure that they continue to have unfettered access to the UK under all circumstances, to ensure that there are no tariffs on goods remaining within the UK customs territory and to ensure that there is no legal confusion about the fact that, while Northern Ireland will remain subject to EU state aid rules for the duration of the protocol, Great Britain will not be subject to EU rules in this area. That is the Government’s overriding priority.”
I have heard that said before, in one form or another, but I think we need to note that that is what this Bill does. There are other provisions relating to Northern Ireland customs and Northern Ireland VAT and excise on goods, and a provision that says:
“VAT will be accounted for the same way as it is today, with Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK’s VAT and excise system”— we will check that when we see the Bill.
“HMRC will continue to be responsible for the operation and collection of the revenues, which will not be passed on to the EU”— a-ha!—
“while Parliament will remain responsible for setting VAT and excise rates across the UK.”
I am not going to be entirely negative about all this; I never am. I rely with confidence on what the Government have said with respect to sovereignty and with respect to tax.
These are important questions. I have confidence in the Prime Minister. I have confidence in the fact that we have had a general election and that the manifesto made the whole of the Brexit question quite clear to the people who voted, giving us a majority of around 80 and, in my own case, as much as 63% of the vote in my constituency, for which I am deeply grateful to my constituents. All I can say is that we will be watching all these matters with great diligence and with a constructive approach, because we hope and trust that, when we have been through the full proceedings on this Bill and, indeed, finalised the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, that confidence will be entirely justified and there will be no impairment of our sovereignty as the United Kingdom, which is what this is all about.
I will conclude simply by saying this. Not since 1688 have we been faced with a situation of such historic importance, other than when we went into the European Union under the false pretences of a White Paper that turned out, unfortunately, to be misleading the British people. There have been two world wars where people have tried to take over this country by force of arms—in particular Germany—and I simply say this: this is the most important moment in our history in the last 250 years, whereby we have regained the sovereignty that was embedded in the arrangements after 1688-89.
By gradual evolution, we developed parliamentary government and representative government. We are described as the mother of Parliaments, as John Bright put it. This is our sovereignty, and we have absolute, total determination—as I understand it, so does the Prime Minister—to maintain that. It is about democracy; it is about freedom. It is what Churchill was proud of; it is what Margaret Thatcher was proud of; it is what we are proud of. I simply make this final point: we will maintain our sovereignty at any price.
It is a pleasure, I guess, to follow Sir William Cash. He was talking about 1688; I think we travelled there in real time, but I thank him very much for the comments that he made.
This time last year, we were all in the throes of a slightly surreal Christmas general election, pounding the streets and chapping the doors in the freezing cold, listening carefully to the concerns of our constituents. My constituents were deeply concerned about the state the UK was in, and they remain concerned today.
It is difficult to believe that we are a full year on since the Conservative party won a majority in this place with promises of a Brexit deal that was “oven ready”. I say it is difficult to believe because we are now just a couple of weeks from the end of the transition period and there still is not anything of substance in the oven. I am not even convinced, actually, that the Government have an oven. The only thing the Prime Minister has driven a bulldozer through lately is his own reputation, treating these negotiations as a game and continuing to pursue a no-deal Brexit in the middle of a global pandemic as households and businesses in this country struggle with the second wave of covid-19.
I wonder whether the hon. Member would like to join me in making it clear to the British public that the phrase “oven ready” was used about the withdrawal agreement, which we did indeed vote into law one week after the general election, not about the trade deal. The Prime Minister never described the trade deal as “oven ready”. Would the hon. Member like to join me in making it clear to the British public that that is the case?
It is very difficult to understand anything that the Prime Minister says because he swivels around on just about everything that he has ever said. He had two positions on whether we should leave the EU, so who knows whether he has an oven-ready deal, an oven or even a microwave? Who can really tell? It is quite difficult to establish that. Perhaps, Madam Deputy Speaker, we could have a TV mounted in the Chamber somewhere showing BBC live news so that we can keep track of what is happening in the negotiations, as the new Brexit countdown calculator they have in the corner ticks away.
It is no secret that these negotiations have been difficult and that the UK Government have not helped themselves as we have gone through them. The UK’s leaving the EU, because of the attitude that the UK has taken, was always going to be the messiest of messy divorces, but the Government have done absolutely no favours in the way they have approached things.
The hon. Member for Stone talked for 21 minutes, I think, about things that he could not see in terms of the Bill that is supposed to be being brought forward tomorrow. The Minister said from the Dispatch Box that he was no better sighted on where things are at with the negotiations than the hon. Member for Stone, who also regards this whole situation as extraordinary. The Minister says that this is going to be debated in the normal way, but there is nothing normal about this situation here today. We go to the Public Bill Office and ask it for advice on what is in the Bill and it does not know; we ask the Library what is in the Bill and it does not know. None of this is their fault; it is the Government’s fault that we do not know what is in this Bill. It is an absolute farce.
These six resolutions and this phantom Bill are a prime example of the procedural chaos that has dominated the Government’s handling of Brexit. Before the taxation Bill has even been published, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster says he
“will keep under review the content” relating to the Northern Ireland protocol. Yesterday, a statement from 10 Downing Street stated:
“Good progress continues to be made regarding the decision as to which goods are ‘at risk’ of entering the EU market. Talks continue this afternoon. In the light of those discussions, the government will keep under review the content of the forthcoming Taxation Bill.”
At 1.16 this afternoon, we had a tweet from Maroš Šefčovič, one of the negotiators, but we still do not know the implications of today’s announcement and it is very difficult to see exactly what is going to happen. The joint statement talks about determining the criteria for goods to be considered not “at risk” of entering the EU, but we do not know what that means. It mentions an agreement in principle, but the Government have not been very principled in the way they have approached anything. How the EU can trust them I do not know.
Every business person would ideally like to have seen the deal done and dusted some months before, but on the basis that the European Union made a commitment to an ambitious free trade agreement, are there no words of criticism that the hon. Lady is willing to use regarding its part in these negotiations that are taking so long?
I think the EU has been more than patient for some time, to try to get some kind of agreement and something sorted out. The UK Government have held two general elections in that time, and we have had several different Prime Ministers. The Government have been an absolute shambles from start to end, and that is where we are today.
Despite the valiant efforts of Kevin Hollinrake, is it not the case that if the EU was not so patient, we would already have suffered a no-deal crash out months ago, perhaps even a year ago?
I will make some progress and bring the right hon. Gentleman in later on. It is interesting that Tony Connelly from RTE said that the EU nations are watching closely to ensure that the relevant clauses are effectively withdrawn from the Bill. If I were them, I would be looking very dubiously at the UK Government on that issue, because we do not know what is going to happen.
It is quite surreal to prepare for a Bill that we have not yet seen, and from which clauses that do not yet exist could still be removed or added, after being rubber-stamped by the House. The six ways and means resolutions on one side of A4 paper represent a significant volume of very detailed VAT resolutions. Resolution 6 alone refers to a Commission decision that runs to some 39 pages on the treatment of CFC group financing exemptions to state aid, and there is still no detail on specifically how the Government wish to amend the substantial pieces of taxation legislation.
We would have advance notice of a Finance Bill, for example. We would have Second Reading, Committee, and Report over an extended period. That time would allow evidence and engagement with stakeholders, but that is not so with these resolutions. To take an example, the Finance Bill earlier this year contained a solid five and a half pages on the detail of call-off stock arrangements. We debated them in the Bill Committee at great length, and it was tremendously exciting.
I would like to know why the hon. Lady supports the EU position on everything. On the question of fish, does she support the general EU smash-and-grab raid for most of the fish, or does she prefer the French version, which is to take practically the whole lot?
I would prefer it if the Government would listen to the concerns of west coast fisheries in Scotland that do not want their fish to die and rot in lorries at Dover because the Government have not sorted out the trading customs.
Members of the House are expected to scrutinise the new tax regime in a fast-tracked timetable with no time for debate or consultation with businesses. There are a host of details in the VAT resolutions. I went through them this morning. I copied them and pasted them, and took them from the VAT regulations that currently exist. That runs to some 20 pages of detail on those VAT resolutions. [Interruption.] I can see the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton waiting for me to read through those 20 pages, but I am not going to do that. I will send him a copy if he would like to read it over later. We will certainly be further forward than we are with the Government concluding anything.
There is a lot of detail in the resolutions and we need to know what exactly is going to happen with them. There are issues on penalties relating to VAT in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018. There are issues to do with the importing of goods as well, and how that is going to work. The guidance on the resolution
“Value added tax (online sales by overseas persons and low value importations)
That provision may be made for the purposes of value added tax in cases involving—
(a) supplies of goods by persons established outside the United Kingdom that are facilitated by online marketplaces, or
(b) the importation into the United Kingdom of goods of a low value.” runs to 11 pages on the UK Government’s website. There are 11 pages of detail, but we do not know what the Government are proposing to change here. We do not know what the Government are proposing to do here and that is very unfortunate. The issue really does follow on from that: we do not know what the Government are going to do and we do not have adequate time to scrutinise all the papers and see what is in them. We do not know whether the Government’s drafting will actually work, when it has been done in such haste.
My hon. Friend is providing a ray of sunshine in between the dark clouds of the Maastricht rebels who are featuring so heavily on today’s call list. Is it not the case that it is not just us and the Opposition who do not know what is going on? Clearly, the Government do not know what is going on either. The Bill has not been published because there is a massive copy-and-paste job going on somewhere in Her Majesty’s Treasury right now, so that they can have it ready. That is probably why we are going to be speaking until 7 pm—they will need that length of time to get the thing finalised, printed and in the Vote Office.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Perhaps I should send the Minister my copy-and-paste job from earlier and that would help him out.
But this really matters. Sammy Wilson talked earlier about people, supermarkets, food arriving and places, and what the impact will be. The Road Haulage Association’s director, Martin Reid, has warned:
“Regardless of whether there is a deal or not, there will still be customs requirements and it’s the customs requirements that will cause the delays. Those delays could run on for at least the first quarter” of next year. The post-transition situation will be chaotic and that will be devastating for business, particularly the way the Government are going about it. Further to that, speaking to The Press and Journal, Mr Reid said the fact that issues still remain to be resolved is shocking:
“The hauliers’ handbook that they produced contains links that take you nowhere, so we’re nowhere near the level of information that is required basically. For goods moving to Ireland, we are still not 100% sure what it’s going to look like;
as for moving through the short straits, we still have a great deal of concern as to the government’s capability either to have the right people in place.”
Nothing the Minister has said this afternoon—or indeed, the scuttling that is going on, on the Government Front Bench just now—gives us any reassurance as to what is going to happen.
Business bodies in Northern Ireland’s legislative committees have expressed concern about potential compliance costs for the future operation of VAT and excise, and nobody knows what it is going to look like. Businesses and farmers in Northern Ireland have been clear that they are not ready for a no-deal scenario. They have said it will place them under unbearable and unnecessary strain. The UK Government are providing no technical detail and very little guidance to those businesses. As my hon. Friend Alan Brown pointed out so well earlier on, the IT system to support all of that just is not there. We heard similar evidence to the Treasury Committee. Businesses have begged the UK Government to reach an agreement, but the UK Government have indulged in bad faith negotiating at every turn.
On the question of bad faith, I do not know whether the hon. Lady heard what I said yesterday, but I will say this: there has never been a more egregious example of bad faith than the manner in which the EU sought to bounce the Government in the middle, and indeed at the end, of the negotiations. It is quite outrageous and in itself warrants the use of article 46, which is there to terminate the agreement if the Government cannot get what they need to preserve our sovereignty.
I do not really agree with the point the hon. Gentleman makes. That probably will not surprise him. The difficulty with all of this is that the UK has never really known what it wanted.
The hon. Gentleman says sovereignty. I am not sure he really understands that either.
The UK Government have not known what they wanted from this situation from the start. I commend the Brexiteers on the Conservative Benches. They have taken this as far as it can go and they have got what they wanted. Perhaps they knew what they wanted, but the Government have not had a clue. That has been clear all the way through and that is part of the reason we are in the difficulties we are in.
The resolutions in front of us do not represent clever negotiating tactics by the UK Government. On the Opposition Benches, on the Government Benches and in Brussels, everyone can see quite plainly the Government’s recklessness in this scenario. At every stage of this laborious and unnecessary process, they have sought to undermine trust in proceedings. Any remaining shreds of goodwill that the UK Government have internationally are in absolute tatters. The UK Government are at the wind-up at a time when we no longer have time to waste. An EU diplomat quoted in the Financial Times this morning said that the moves of the UK Government amounted to the UK
“trying to use rogue behaviour as leverage”.
Presumably the UK Government have caved today in taking the clauses out of the Bill, but we have to ask why they were there in the first place. How does it help us to say that we will break international law? It is a pretty basic principle that the Government have breached. Presumably, if the negotiations take a further slide backwards, the clauses can be put back in again. With apologies to Mark Durkan, because it is the kind of thing he would have said, it is hokey-cokey legislation.
It is perhaps not a surprise to those of us in Scotland that the Prime Minister and this Tory Government would sell a devolved nation down the river in order to appease those on the more extreme fringes of their party—
But devolution has been fundamentally undermined—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will like that phrasing better. Devolution has been fundamentally undermined by the actions of the Government in the internal market Bill yesterday, ripping up the very principles by which devolution was established 20 years ago. Scotland did not vote for any of this—not in the EU referendum, not in either of the snap general elections this Government have called, and not in the European elections—not once, but we are being dragged off the cliff edge anyway.
Even before the pandemic, modelling suggested that a no deal would decrease Scotland’s GDP by 6.1%, considerably more than even the 2008 crash. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that a no deal Brexit on
Jim Harra, the head of HMRC, confirmed at the Treasury Committee yesterday that doing the paperwork alone for this will cost business an eye-watering £7.5 billion a year. That is £7.5 billion that businesses will not have to spend on improving their businesses, increasing staff wages or investing in productivity. There will be 265 million customs forms after Brexit, compared with 54 million now. What a complete and utter waste of everyone’s time and money, and nobody put that on the side of a bus.
Not content with inflicting damage on our economy, these resolutions and the behaviour of the UK Government throughout this process permanently damage and erode trust in the devolution settlement. We are seeing a shameless power grab of state aid powers that should have been devolved, quite rightly, to the Scottish Parliament.
There is still time to pull back from the no deal cliff edge. The choice is entirely the Prime Minister’s to make. It is as clear as day that Westminster is acting against Scotland’s interests. It is little wonder to any of us on these Benches that the majority of Scots now support independence. One of those people who supported Scottish independence relentlessly was Craig Munro, who passed away just recently, and our thoughts are with his sister Gail and his son Sam. They will be devastated that he will not be here to see independence when it comes, because it is there to be won for all of us. More and more people are seeing the urgent need for independence to protect Scotland’s place in Europe and all the powers that we have come to enjoy through devolution. Scotland will complete that journey. The UK Government’s behaviour through all of this is only hastening that journey’s end.
I declare my business interests in the register.
I came to this debate expecting to hear the Minister set out a vision of post-Brexit Britain, how the taxation system will be transformed and how VAT will be changed to encourage our businesses and give our consumers a better time. Instead, we have six resolutions that are mainly about trying to make sure that the Government can get even more VAT out of people after we have left than before. The Government could have done that at any time. Where is the vision that we will have a much better tax system after Brexit?
We are taking back control of VAT, which was almost entirely under EU control. The Government say, for example, they wish to be a green Government, but these measures will not even take VAT off a whole series of green products, which should not have VAT on them if the Government are trying to encourage people to insulate their homes, change their boiler controls or put in more fuel-efficient ways of heating their homes. The Minister has failed this very simple test.
We have six resolutions about a piece of legislation which we are not allowed to see until after the debate. It is a piece of legislation that will be very complex, because it is mainly about the techniques of raising revenue and making sure that no revenue escapes. However, the Brexit voters out there—the majority in the country—have had to vote three times now for Brexit to make it clear to the House of Commons that they want even this House of Commons to be in charge, even though there are still too many MPs on the Opposition Benches who hate the idea of this country legislating for and governing itself and think that every law that comes from Europe is wise and necessary and every law that is made here is somehow inappropriate.
We want our Ministers to say, “No, we are the people’s representatives. We had the majority in the election and we are going to transform our country’s economy, recover the economy from covid-19 and level up the country.” That requires bold and visionary leadership and it certainly requires pretty fundamental tax changes. VAT rates on some things are too high. VAT should not be imposed on some things at all. We need to remodel that tax. We need to look again at our corporate taxes, where a series of judgments by the European Court of Justice prevented this country levying all the corporate taxes that it wished to raise.
I probably should not rise to the bait, but does the right hon. Gentleman honestly think that the way the Government are treating the House tonight is an expression of parliamentary sovereignty? Is this what he really campaigned for over all these years, so that the Government could fast-track major financial legislation, bounce it through the House of Commons, not give us the information we are looking for and not subject it to proper debate? Is that what he campaigned for for all these years?
The answer is that I campaigned for this Parliament to take control and use it in the interests of the people, which is why I am making the speech that I am making. Why does the hon. Gentleman not listen to it instead of planning an intervention for a speech I am not making? I am urging the Government to take back control and use it in the way that the public would like to see them use it.
I must take up the point of sovereignty. My hon. Friend Sir William Cash is quite right to go back to that. The simple truth about Brexit is that Brexit voters knew exactly what we were voting for. We understood the slogan “Take back control”, and we think control—the right of self-government, the right to trust people in these Houses of Parliament to make decisions for us or the right to throw them out if they are useless—is fundamental to our freedoms and living in a democracy. You do not bargain those away in some kind of dispute about tariffs. You do not argue about those in the context of making compromises.
This is the fundamental truth of Brexit. Like practically every other country in the world that is not a member of the EU, we just want to be free to make those decisions and laws that we can make and have representative institutions—a great Parliament—in order to do that. We clearly need to train some of the parliamentarians in the idea that we can make better laws here than people can make for us abroad and that we can modify European laws that we currently have so that they work in our interests better.
I do not disagree with the hon. Lady. I have said that I want to debate a real Bill. I am giving ideas to the Minister because I do not think what he has in mind for this Bill is going to quite suit me. I want to pep it up. I want to make it more exciting so that we can go out to the public and say, “This is the party that is going to level up. This is the party that knows how to recover an economy that has been damaged by covid”, and that requires lower taxes and different taxes and requires that we use the powers that only the House of Commons has. The House of Lords has very limited abilities to intervene, and on this occasion I am very pleased about that, because it nearly always wants to take the European answer, and the European answer is the high unemployment answer, the high taxation answer and the very complicated taxation answer.
VAT is an extremely complicated tax. We had to adopt its complications and we are now trying to add to those complications to try to avoid items slipping through. We are trying in these proposals to deal with small transactions that sometimes escape the net. They try to find ways of making online organisations, for example, responsible for levying tax between two people trading with each other.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the levelling-up agenda. On rough figures, we have had 50 years of the EU, 20 years of devolution and over 300 years of the Union. Why are devolution and the EU to blame for the requirement to level up when, quite clearly, the Union is at the heart of the problem?
I do not agree, and nor did Scottish voters when they were asked this question. We do have a great democratic country and I was a great enthusiast for the people of Scotland deciding whether they liked our Union or not. They said, yes, they liked our Union. Then the people of the United Kingdom were asked whether they liked the European Union and they said they did not. So I found myself in the happy position of agreeing in two big referendums with the winning side. It is such a pity that the Scottish National party lost both and has never understood the democratic principle that it then has to accept the verdict. I was on the losing side in a former referendum; like my whole party, I was against the principle of Scottish devolution, and we got that wrong. We lost that referendum and from the day after that we did not fight it, delay it or dilute it. We said, “Yes, devolution is the wish of the Scottish people.” We got on and implemented it.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend can recall this, but when that Bill was introduced by the late Donald Dewar in 1997 I put forward a proposal that the devolution settlement should be decided by a referendum of the entire UK. Perhaps it is some encouragement for him to know that despite a three-line Whip half the Conservative Back Benchers went through the Lobby behind me on that question of having a referendum for the whole UK on this devolution issue, about which he is being so extremely articulate.
We are probably straying a little away from the resolutions before us, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will not try your patience any more. I have made my two main points, but just to summarise: we need more vision from the Government to use our power to tax in our own way, because our current tax system is ill fitting and not yet geared to promoting that recovery we want —we need greater simplicity, lower taxes and a lower incidence of taxes to get that recovery going; and we need reassurances from the Government that sovereignty is not something one can bargain away or compromise over, but is fundamental. We either have a free trade agreement between an independent UK and the EU, which is our preferred model, or we have no deal. It is as simple as that. The choice is theirs.
It is a great honour to speak after my right hon. Friend John Redwood and hear his impassioned plea for a vision about life in Britain after Brexit. Let me say one thing on that. In my one year here in Parliament, I have spent a lot of time working on different bits of legislation about what life will be like after Brexit. For example, the Environment Bill sets out a whole new framework, one far more ambitious than the EU’s, to preserve the environment, and the Agriculture Bill removes the totally discredited common agricultural policy, which I would like to see any Opposition Members support, and replaces it with a new regime in the UK that is fit for purpose.
I am the proud product of the EU and its internal market; I am half Norwegian, part Irish, part French, with extended family in Italy and Denmark. I have also been engaged in European politics for about 20 years. I was Europe correspondent for The Times, living in Brussels for three years. I was in charge of all the EU funding in London during the Prime Minister’s first term as Mayor of London. As chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, I led all the negotiations for Britain’s biggest export industry in the European Commission, Council and Parliament, with meetings up to and including Jean-Claude Juncker. So I have had a ringside seat at many European negotiations, and we all know that they are part showmanship, part brinkmanship. Everything is always left to the last minute, and for a very good reason—this picks up on the point made by the shadow Minister, Bridget Phillipson—which is that we are negotiating with 27 different countries and they all have differing interests. A lot of them have a vested interest in trying to leave everything to the very last moment. I have sat through many Council meetings and summits where things went to not just to one minute to midnight, but several hours past it.
Earlier, the hon. Gentleman tried to do the whole “oven-ready deal was to do with the withdrawal agreement”, which we know is a fudge. If this is so complicated, as he highlights just now, with 27 other countries involved, what does he say about the former International Trade Secretary, Dr Fox, who said that a free trade agreement with the EU would be the “easiest in human history”? How does the hon. Gentleman conflate or twist that?
I never thought that it would be a really easy negotiation. It was clearly going to be complicated, and the Government have been negotiating in good faith.
Another thing I have noticed from EU negotiations is that there are many different negotiations happening in parallel, and virtually no one knows what is going on. In fact, no one really knows what is going on apart from the people in the negotiating room, and often the people in the negotiating room do not know what is going on, because there is some ambush being plotted somewhere else that then slips into the negotiations. We have to trust our negotiating team. They are the only ones with the insight and knowledge of what is going on to be able to make judgments about when an issue should be pushed, when to play hard ball and when to turn up the charm.
That brings me back to the “notwithstanding” clauses. I strongly welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster announcing this agreement on all the Joint Committee issues with the European Commission. That protects the Good Friday agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, and it will protect peace in Northern Ireland.
Those “notwithstanding” clauses were needed only in case the Joint Committee did not reach agreement. It has reached agreement, and therefore those clauses are not needed. The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South said that the damage is done, but it is not. Often in negotiations, we need to play hard ball to get an agreement. It is entirely plausible that if we had not had those clauses, this agreement would not have been reached. We have that agreement, and the whole House should welcome it.
But it’s not all over till it’s over. We do not have the trade deal yet. There are still negotiations going on. I hope that we do get a trade deal, as I think the whole House does; very few people do not want that. It is very much in both sides’ interests that we get an agreement. It is in President Macron’s interest as well. I would not like to see him have to tell his entire fishing industry that it is about to lose 100% of its access to British fishing waters. Until we have a trade deal, the Government have to negotiate for all the different scenarios of having or not having a trade deal. We do not have to legislate for the Joint Committee not reaching an agreement, because it has done so. Therefore, we do not need those “notwithstanding” clauses in the Bill.
The Government have an absolute duty to ensure the integrity of the UK and its internal market and to do everything they can to ensure as much continuity as possible for businesses affected by this. The Government have an absolute obligation to the people of Northern Ireland—I speak as someone with a lot of family in Northern Ireland—to ensure that they have unfettered access to the UK in all circumstances. There must be no tariffs on goods from Northern Ireland to GB or GB to Northern Ireland, so long as those goods are consumed in the UK.
I welcome the agreement on the Northern Ireland border, which is be welcomed, but there is still the possibility of a no-deal scenario, and there might therefore be tariffs. It would be a dereliction of the Government’s duty if they did not legislate to have a tariff regime in Northern Ireland, which is what the Bill does.
The Government have a duty to ensure as much continuity as possible for businesses. The Bill ensures continuity of administration for VAT and excise duty in Northern Ireland, so that businesses in Northern Ireland know that they will still be part of the VAT and excise duty regime in the UK.
We have been given enough information so far to know the general principles of the Bill, but we are discussing a Ways and Means motion. The Bill will be published after this, in time for Second Reading.
There are two provisions on tax evasion in the Bill that are very welcome. The first is on ensuring that VAT is paid on goods bought online from overseas. We all know the scenario, and I am sure we have all done it: we order goods online from overseas and they are delivered through the post. The VAT payment is not made in the UK—it is often made overseas—or often not made at all. That mattered less when we were part of the EU, because we had an agreement with the EU under which VAT was charged. Following Brexit, it is even more important that we have a system where there is proper, robust payment of VAT. This is really important for high streets in Britain. The high streets in my constituency have really suffered from the coronavirus closures and lockdowns and from people moving to e-commerce. More than ever, we need a level playing field between the high streets and e-commerce, so I fully support that provision.
The second tax evasion provision is on the insurance premium tax. Again, this was less of an issue when we were in the EU. It is about whether somebody who buys insurance from other countries pays the insurance premium tax that insurance companies in the UK are required to pay. We had an assistance agreement with the EU to ensure that EU insurance companies paid that insurance premium tax. At the end of the transition period, that comes to an end, and this provision fills that gap, so I very much welcome it. This Bill is absolutely necessary. It would be a dereliction of the Government’s duty to ensure the integrity of the UK if we did not pass it, and I fully commend it.
I note that Anthony Browne talked of being part French, part Norwegian and part Irish—he had other bits as well that I did not quite pick up. Can I assure him that I am 100% British and want to remain 100% British? I have taken the stance I have against the withdrawal agreement, and the approach that people have taken to it, because it diminishes my Britishness.
I am not quite clear what is in the legislation that the Minister is introducing today, and I am even less clear now, because, according to the statement issued by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at lunch time, whatever is in the Bill today, some of it will not be in it tomorrow. As far as I am concerned, the parts that are important seek to manage the parts of the withdrawal agreement that are damaging to the Northern Ireland economy and to the internal market of the United Kingdom, which are underpinned by the Act of Union. Those are the important parts for me. It seems that they might well be removed from the Bill before it even gets to the Floor, or certainly they will not be exercised.
Why do I believe that protections are needed? The withdrawal agreement intervenes and undermines many parts of the Northern Ireland economy. It also damages the Northern Ireland economy’s relationship with the biggest market for Northern Ireland businesses, which is the market in Great Britain. It interrupts the supply of goods from the main source of the supplies that we receive in Northern Ireland, right down to basic foodstuffs, the equipment required by manufacturers and the parts required by producers in Northern Ireland who then export their goods across the world. The withdrawal agreement seriously undermines that and the interpretation of the withdrawal agreement by the EU even goes beyond what the agreement said and what the Government expected from the agreement.
Let me give just one example: goods at risk. According to article 5 of the protocol, exemptions could be made, determined on the basis of
“the final destination and use of the good;
the nature and the value of the good;
the nature of the movement;
and the incentive for undeclared onward-movement into the Union, in particular incentives resulting from duties payable pursuant to paragraph 1.”
Yet despite the fact that some goods clearly do not present a risk under any of those criteria, the EU was insisting up until this week—I do not know what has happened at the Joint Committee; we will hear from the Minister tomorrow—that even supermarket goods brought from GB to Northern Ireland for shops that did not even have outlets in the Republic would be regarded as goods at risk. Goods that had been freely consumed across the EU for the last 40 years, made in GB, from which nobody died of poisoning or had their health affected, were no longer acceptable.
No, I am not, and the reason for that is that from the day that the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, the cheerleaders for the EU have been those sitting on the Opposition Benches—apart from the Members from my own party. At every stage, it has almost been as if the EU had its representatives sitting in this Parliament. The Labour party in particular suffered from that, because many of its patriotic supporters asked, “What kind of representation are we getting, where these people are seeking to undermine our country, rather than uphold our sovereignty and the result of the free vote that the people of the United Kingdom undertook in the referendum?”
Did the right hon. Gentleman note that when I intervened on Labour and SNP Members to invite them to support just something in the current UK negotiating position, they could not bring themselves to support a single thing that this country wants from the negotiations?
Again, that does not surprise me, because most Members on the Opposition Benches wish, first, that the referendum had never happened; secondly, that the result had not been as it was; and thirdly, that they could find some Machiavellian way to undermine it, as they have been doing for the last number of years. It is unfortunate that we are in the position that we are partly because the EU knows that there are people in this Parliament who will undermine the Government’s negotiating position. That, of course, makes it more difficult for the Government to negotiate. I do not give that as a justification for some of the things that the Government have agreed to in the withdrawal agreement, whether they relate to Northern Ireland or to the impact on the rest of the United Kingdom; to me, the withdrawal agreement is poison that will infect any future trade arrangements that we might get with the EU.
The point that I am making is that protections are needed because the EU has taken the withdrawal agreement. Even where the agreement does give some latitude to allow the internal market of the United Kingdom not to be disrupted and the economy of Northern Ireland not to be undermined, the EU has refused to give that interpretation. In fact, it has done the exact opposite and looked for the most draconian interpretation of the agreement. Only last Friday, the EU insisted that anyone travelling from GB to Northern Ireland would have to have their personal baggage searched to ensure that they were not taking any contraband into Northern Ireland, despite the fact that article 5 of the Northern Ireland protocol states that the “nature and value” of the goods should be considered.
I hope that Bridget Phillipson can understand that when she and the Labour party table amendments such as the one she moved today, saying that the withdrawal agreement must be guarded and protected at all costs, she is in effect saying, “We put the value of this piece of paper above the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.” This is putting that piece of paper above the interests of the people of Northern Ireland to have the range of goods that they want and at the best prices, and above the interests of businesses that export from Northern Ireland to GB. In effect, that is what her amendment says.
I am even more amazed that any representative from Northern Ireland dares to put their name to that amendment. I wonder what the consumers and businesses in their constituency think about somebody who values protection of the EU, and an agreement that the EU has with the UK, above the interests of their constituents.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Republic of Ireland’s interests with regards to Northern Ireland are many times predatory in terms of our businesses? They wish to stifle the competition that exists on the island and to stifle the thrifty economy of Northern Ireland. They have done so in many ways and the withdrawal agreement gives them further opportunity to do that.
Yes, the worrying thing is that, with the withdrawal agreement in place, Northern Ireland is subject to laws made in Europe—laws into which the Irish Republic will have an input; laws into which, because we have left, the UK will have no input; laws into which Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly will have no input. We are at the mercy of those who wish to engage in this predatory behaviour and use EU legislation to damage Northern Ireland.
That is why the protections are needed. The protections that I would like to see in the Bill—unfortunately, it appears the Government are prepared to withdraw the protections before they have even introduced the Bill—would apply where the EU insists that goods that come into Northern Ireland have tariffs and would have tariffs imposed on them if they were going into the EU. That barrier should not be in place. Northern Irish consumers and businesses which bring in goods that will clearly be sold and consumed in Northern Ireland should not have to pay those taxes. I heard what the Minister said. It appears that, even with the Bill, he is not ruling that out. If I noted him correctly, he said that there would be a waiver where tariffs are incurred that should not have been incurred. He is almost admitting that, in the Bill that he has introduced, there will be provision to repay those tariffs. However, producers in Northern Ireland will find themselves in a situation where they have to pay EU tariffs, prove that the goods on which they paid the tariffs did not go into the EU, and then get the money back.
That presents a number of problems. First, the trade itself is not free. Secondly, the business that has to pay the tax has a cash-flow issue. Thirdly, there are additional administrative costs involved in proving that some of the goods on which it paid tax did not leave Northern Ireland. If there is anything that will put a chill on trade between GB and Northern Ireland, it is that. I am concerned—perhaps the Minister in his response will be able to give me some comfort—that the Bill, even though it will carry some protections, still does not give that absolute protection for businesses in Northern Ireland because of the terms of the protocol. I could provide many other examples of the EU’s draconian interpretation of the Bill. Someone who takes their pets from GB to Northern Ireland would be affected, or someone going on holiday there. Someone taking their pet from Northern Ireland to a dog show in Scotland will now have to have a pet passport, a rabies vaccination, and all the documentation surrounding that—probably about £400 a trip, yet we are part of the United Kingdom.
That is why protections are needed. I implore the Minister—I know what has been said in the statement today—not to remove the notwithstanding clauses in the Bill until it is sure that the issues that are likely to arise have been dealt with properly, because we have not even seen the detail of the particular things that have been agreed.
In conclusion, it is a pity that we do not have the detail of this Bill today. It is a pity that we do not have the assurances. I note what the Minister said about the VAT regime, which is that Northern Ireland businesses will remain under the UK VAT regime. That is true, but what he failed to say was that, as a result of the Bill, they will not also remain under the EU VAT regime. Article 8 of the Northern Ireland protocol makes it clear that we will and that has all kinds of implications. We have to have two different VAT systems. We have to have different means of VAT recording. Will we be subject to the EU conditions when it comes to VAT exemptions, or the various tiers of VAT rates? Will the EU exemptions for small businesses apply to Northern Ireland—the €85,000 or whatever it is—so that small businesses find themselves caught in a net that they would not have found themselves caught in had we been truly under the UK VAT system? It is not enough to say that we will remain under the UK VAT system. The important thing is: will we be exempt from article 8 of the protocol as a result of the measures in the Bill?
Those are the kind of issues that people in Northern Ireland are looking for. Traders in Northern Ireland—people who sell used cars, for example—will now be subject to EU rules. It used to be that they incurred only the marginal VAT rate, on the profit made on the car. Now the VAT rate will apply to the whole price of the car, putting up the price of second-hand cars for people in Northern Ireland. They will be paying above what they would pay if they lived in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Perhaps in his summing up, the Minister can let us know whether the Government are addressing any of those issues, because those are the issues that concern my constituents and those are the issues that stem from this protocol. That is why this protocol is poisonous to the internal market of the United Kingdom.
It is always a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson. He is one of the most effective and passionate communicators in this Chamber and, if nothing else today, he has reminded the Labour party that there are two sides in a negotiation.
We have had a very wide-ranging debate so far, some of it even on the ways and means resolutions. Should these actually come to a vote later this evening—we have had some apocalyptic language used, but apocalyptic language does not always follow through into actually voting—I will be supporting them, because we must make sure that preparations are in place for the end of the transition period. This Bill is a part of that, which is why these resolutions should pass. This Bill is also a part of ensuring that we are legally prepared for the different outcomes that could flow from the negotiations, this work in progress. We do not know what it will say, but I just want to put it on the record again that I hope we will have a deal along the free trade lines already agreed.
The Bill is also about ensuring that we have smooth continuity of business. Of the six measures, three deal with Northern Ireland and the protocol. There are colleagues in this House more focused on the detail of Northern Ireland policy than me. I just want to say that I view Northern Ireland as a really important part of the United Kingdom. I want to see the continuity of trade operate smoothly and effectively across all four parts of our United Kingdom, and I am pleased that the Government have made the obligation to the people of Northern Ireland about continued unfettered access to the UK under all circumstances.
I will not add anything further to the contributions on Northern Ireland. Those measures have been talked about in this debate already and very articulately. There are three other measures, which are reforms to the wider tax system. The most significant is the new model treatment for VAT on goods arriving into the UK from overseas. Basically, the collection of VAT will move from the existing arrangements on to the overseas seller or the online marketplace where the sale transaction occurred, making the collection of VAT easier and ensuring a more level playing field, especially for the UK high street. Businesses on every high street in the country have been having a rough time for many years, and one reason for that is the rise of internet shopping. Many businesses have a physical and digital offer—both bricks and clicks—making themselves available to customers through whichever purchase route they choose. These businesses pay VAT and will be unfairly undercut if overseas businesses are allowed to make VAT-free sales. This measure will tackle non-compliance. I understand that similar measures are in place in other parts of the world and, indeed, that the EU is introducing something similar.
The fifth measure is about tackling tax evasion in the insurance sector so that HMRC can prevent tax evasion whether an insurer is based in the UK or not—basically it is the power to issue a liability notice irrespective of location. That is part of the creation of a level playing field for UK businesses, just as the previous measure was. The last measure is very technical in nature, dealing with taxation implications from legacy state aid decisions. All I can say is that as I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister is on the case. This measure was perhaps designed for specialists.
Overall, the continuity of seamless trade across the UK is critical for us all. The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill has that at its core. That principle is maintained in this Bill, alongside the measures for a level playing field, which is why I shall support it.
This debate has been far more entertaining than I imagined it would be at the start. We have seen some real squirming on the Government Benches, particularly from the Minister and some unsettled Members who have steadfastly supported Brexit for quite some time. One of the best pieces of gymnastics I have heard today has been from the Government Bench: it has to be the rejection of the idea of the Prime Minister’s oven-ready deal. It reminded me of William Hughes Mearns, who said—well, he didn’t; I am reimagining—“Yesterday upon the table, they had a deal that wasn’t there. It wasn’t there again today. Oh, how they wish that deal would go away.”
The Minister said at the start of the debate that he was not even briefed on his own Government’s announcement; he did not know the news coming through that affected what we are debating.
As you will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, I said no such thing. In fact, I responded and outlined the relevance of the statement to the speech and the debate. What I said was that I had no privileged access, since I am not myself a member of the committee that discussed this item, but that the Minister concerned would be coming to the Chamber to discuss it tomorrow.
Hansard will confirm whether or not he said he was not sighted on the Government’s announcement this afternoon. Even if we take him at his word, he comes here woefully ill prepared to tell us what might be in the Bill; he can tell us some things that will not be in there because of that announcement this afternoon, but he cannot tell us what will be in there. We are none the wiser as to what might be in the detail, which my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss so forensically went through earlier. He could have given a lot more detail on the issues that will be affected. We just do not know what is going to come forward. It is not clear. It is good to know that the lawbreaking clauses that might have been contained in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will no longer be contained in this Bill. Of course, they should never have been in this Bill or the internal market Bill. While we welcome their going, that situation should never have occurred in the first place.
The Minister talked about giving confidence and certainty and meeting the commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, but there are still serious issues for the supply chain. It is a dry term, “the supply chain”, but it has direct effects on people’s lives. It means goods, food and essentials being available to people’s families and, of course, to sustain businesses. My hon. Friend Alan Brown talked earlier about the evidence given to his Committee about systems that were simply not in place. The Minister cannot claim that access will be unfettered in those circumstances, because even with a low deal, there is a clear probability of critical shortages and delays. People’s lives will be affected, in some cases severely, amid what is, let us not forget, a global pandemic.
The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium has naturally welcomed the news today, but it points out that there are still major problems ahead, as is the case in Scotland. It has published new research from its Brexit working group showing that the majority of businesses could not and will not be prepared in time. They include food producers such as those in the Northern Ireland meat industry.
We have also heard from the Road Haulage Association. It has to be said—a former Transport Minister, Andrew Jones, is sitting across from me just now—that the association has been raising concerns about this, year after year. It has known what is coming in logistical challenges. Even with a deal there will be delays, and delays mean shortages, so spare a thought for the Road Haulage Association. It should have been central to the Government’s planning. Its members are the experts on logistics; they are the people who know on a day-to-day basis what needs to be done, yet they have been ignored by this Government pretty much all the way through, save for some platitudes and some “There, there, things will be okay” comments. Those people should have been at the heart of these preparations.
It is rare for me to agree with anything that Sir William Cash has to say, but I have to agree with him that what we are being asked to debate today is impossibly vague. As far as I can see, the Ways and Means resolution in its present form, even after the Government’s announcement today, still contradicts the withdrawal agreement. So unless the Minister can clarify that that is not the case, we will have to assume that it is still the case at hand. Northern Ireland, like Scotland, never voted for this Brexit shambles, yet families and businesses there will both feel the effect.
The Minister said earlier that it was inappropriate to say that the Tories had sold devolution down the river. Well, apart from being tellingly sensitive, he has obviously also not been sighted on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill clauses that still remain. People in Scotland are not daft. They see what this Government are doing. They see what is going on, and that is why, soon, they will choose to take their own place in their own future with an independent nation.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate today. I have been listening to the debate from the start with some interest, and there have certainly been some vigorous contributions. I must say that I was presented with some hope by my hon. Friend Andrew Jones when he spoke to the actual motions. I was nearly aghast, because for me this debate has felt a bit like groundhog day, to be honest.
Twelve months ago, like all of us in this House, I was out there pounding the streets in my constituency, 70% of which had voted to leave the European Union. There had been a Labour MP there for some 90 years. I was there as grown men were breaking down and crying on their doorsteps because everything they believed in had been completely betrayed and abandoned. They had been told that they did not understand what they had voted for, that they had no comprehension of the impact of what they had done, and that as a result, they did not really deserve to have their voices heard. That is why I am here today; it is because of how they felt.
I will now get to the core of the motions. Hon. and right hon. Members have talked in much depth, and I want to talk about the VAT implications, particularly for my retailers, and about motion 4 on the Order Paper. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough made a very detailed interrogation of these regulations, and he was right. This is about ensuring that our high streets, our domestic retailers, can have a balanced playing field as we move forward.
These regulations are needed either way, because we have to accept the fact that we have left the EU and that on
I completely stand with the Government in their commitment to ensuring that we get there, but, as right hon. and hon. Members have said, it is a historical fact, which we know from previous negotiations such as these, that they go to the eleventh hour, and political bluster and back and forth often characterises them. I am absolutely behind the Government in their attempts to ensure that we get that deal, because my manufacturers and my businesses need it.
Coming back to the point on VAT, which has been raised consistently throughout this debate, we have seen the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, and let us just for a moment remember what we are talking about with these motions. We are talking about real people. We are talking about their livelihoods. We are talking about how they provide for their families.
It might seem quite abstract when we talk about ways and means resolutions and what they mean, because at their heart is the technical and administrative way in which revenue is raised. They are very technical motions, and I do not think they are going to garner a wide audience at five minutes past 5 in the afternoon—although we never know; some of the speeches today have certainly garnered some interest. However, at the core, this is about those individuals we are here to represent, about those families, and about ensuring that businesses, particularly on our high streets—as right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken to these motions have stated—are able to carry on. As we come through this period into next year, it will be vital to ensure that we can have communities that thrive again and that we get beyond this.
The fact is that life is going to move on. We are going to have to go into 2021 and carry on with our lives. We will have to move forward, whatever our nation looks like; I appreciate there are divergent views across the House on how that will look in one way or another, but we must ensure that we can function, that our constituents can carry on with their lives and that business can carry on, and that is what these motions are about. At their heart is the practicality of ensuring that we can raise revenue, that we can follow through those taxes and that our VAT system works.
To pick up a point that my right hon. Friend John Redwood made, we have real potential now, with our VAT freedoms coming back to us, to do some really innovative things. A prime example would be zero VAT on sanitary products; that has been a huge campaign, and I pay tribute to the people involved in it. That is something that we can ensure carries on. Equally, on digital books and services, we can ensure that, in areas such as mine with some of the highest levels of child deprivation, we close the digital gap and ensure that educational opportunities are there.
People might think that these things are minutiae and that they are abstract compared with everyday life, but they are not. They are at its core. We do not hear about them and we do not talk about them often, but they are there and they have an impact on every single one of our communities, from Princes End in my constituency to Aberdeen, Broadland, Harrogate—even Doncaster, Madam Deputy Speaker. They have an impact on everyone.
We talk about the importance of these resolutions and why we must get them through, and that is about ensuring that ultimately, as we move forward, we can operate a tax system that is efficient and that can carry on and that, as we look forward to 2021, as life goes on beyond these debates that have plagued us now for four and a half years and as we finally respect the decision that was taken by 70% of my constituents in 2016, we can do so in an efficient way that works for everyone. I will be supporting these resolutions today, and I commend my right hon. Friend the Minister for bringing them forward.
I add my comments to those of my hon. Friend Shaun Bailey, with his optimistic tone. I, too, am optimistic about the future; despite the fact that I have never looked at Brexit through rose-tinted spectacles, I have never argued that this country cannot succeed economically outside the European Union. I welcome some of the measures in this proposed Bill, particularly on creating a fairer and more level playing field for our small and medium-sized enterprises—I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Before talking about that, however, I would like to talk about the national interest. I think it was Churchill who said that in our parliamentary duties we should put country first, constituency second and party third, yet all I have heard from the Opposition and the SNP today is putting their party interests first.
What the hon. Gentleman is missing is that we have a different definition of nation, and our interpretation of Scotland’s national interest is quite different from the UK’s national interest that he sees.
I have heard quite a lot the argument that Scotland did not vote to leave the European Union, but that is not how the votes were added up. This was a national, United Kingdom vote. Those were the terms of the referendum, which were voted for in this House. That is how the entire nation voted, and we are leaving the European Union. Some of us will be less happy about that than others, but nevertheless, that is what we are instructed to do and what we should do.
For the Opposition, Bridget Phillipson said time and again that the Government were irresponsible in these negotiations. Can I just remind her that there are two sides to this negotiation? There are two sides, and I would ask which side she is on, because she is not representing the national interests in the way she is discussing these matters and blaming the Government for being in this position at this stage. Of course—and I am in business today—every business in this land would have liked the situation to be done and dusted last June, as we had hoped. However, there are two sides to this negotiation, and it has to be said that the European Union has been difficult in these negotiations.
If the hon. Lady does not believe my words about that, she should listen to one of the most reliable commentators on her Benches, Hilary Benn, in his speech on
“I have to say that I have some sympathy with the Government’s argument: exit summary declarations should not be required for goods moving from Northern Ireland to GB. When Wrightbus sells one of its wonderful buses to a transport operator in the UK, why is the form needed and what is the EU going to do with the form?”
On goods at risk, he said that
“surely it is possible to reach a pragmatic solution, because a lorry load of goods destined for a supermarket in Belfast can hardly be described as being at risk of entering the European Union.”—[Official Report,
Yet those are some of the matters that the European Union was negotiating on or on which it was trying to negotiate hardball.
I ask again: who does the hon. Lady think, and who does Alison Thewliss for the SNP think, is being difficult in this negotiation? Is it purely the United Kingdom? Of course it is not. Why are there no words of criticism for the European Union’s position and for leaving it this late before agreeing what should be a simple trade deal to arrange and negotiate? It has negotiated similar trade deals with many other countries around the world, and we start from a similar position with our regulations and customs duties.
From an identical position. This should have been an easy trade negotiation, but of course it is not, for the reasons that we know. Of course, there is politics behind this negotiation, and the politics in this place should be united on one side, in the UK’s national interests, but they are not. Too often, Opposition Members have represented the European Union’s negotiating position in these negotiations.
Of course, it was the United Kingdom Government who were threatening to break international law. Does he have any similar examples from the European Union, or is it simply a one-way street as far as he is concerned?
The hon. Member makes a fair point, but I would point him back to the political declaration, which sat alongside the withdrawal agreement, within which there were clear commitments from the European Union to agree an ambitious free trade agreement. He must accept, as commentators on that side of the fence—on the Opposition Benches—have also said, that it is clear the European Union has been difficult in these negotiations, and more difficult than perhaps many had anticipated. It is clearly in the European Union’s interests and their constituents’ interests to agree a free trade deal without this kind of last-minute drama.
On that point, I am sure my hon. Friend will, like me, have seen in the press German car manufacturers begging the German Government and saying, “We’ve got to get this done. The European Union has got to get it done.” Equally, French fishermen have been doing the same with President Macron. Surely our European cousins and partners get this—that it is a bilateral thing that the European Union needs to do—but why do the Opposition seem not to get that? Perhaps he could enlighten me.
Of course, the European Union is negotiating in its interests and is obviously trying to protect its interests in that negotiation, but one thing the European Union has done much better than we have on this side of the channel is negotiate with one voice. In this place, we have not—we absolutely have not—and that has undermined the UK’s negotiating position. If the Opposition think that the European Union does not hear what this place says, that is clearly a naive position. If the Opposition think that the European Union does not hear what this place says, that is clearly a naive position. I would argue, at this very late stage, that we work together, cross-party, to try to bring about a situation where we can get the free trade agreement that we all know is possible and can be delivered within the timescale we have left.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point about working cross-party. We entered into this in the spirit of cross-party working. The Scottish Government put forward constructive proposals on cross-party working that the UK Government rejected. For a long time during this process, it has been his own party that has been undermining his Government’s negotiating position. Does he not accept that that has been part of the problem?
No, I do not. The UK Government have to take a number of matters into consideration. They have a collective position. Clearly, we cannot always get exactly what we want in terms of negotiation. My point is that we could have done better in these negotiations and there could have been less drama around them. The fact that these negotiations are concluding so close to the deadline for businesses has been brought about partly because of the divided nature of this Parliament. The hon. Lady and the Opposition should take responsibility for that position.
My point about a fair and level playing field is about the fact that many of our small businesses in the UK compete with online platforms—online marketplaces, as they are called—such as Amazon and eBay. How can it be right that for so long many of those small businesses have been competing at a 20% disadvantage? Many retailers selling into the UK are not paying VAT on those sales. I am pleased that the Government have acted on this and closed the loophole. They have closed a number of loopholes in recent years through measures such as the digital services tax and the diverted profits tax. This creates the fairer and more level playing field for the rest that I very much welcome. There is one more loophole that we could close, not in this legislation, but in the Financial Services Bill, which is going through Parliament at the same time.
Country-by-country reporting would also have a profound effect in closing loopholes that some companies are using to divert profits out of this country.
The Government are making an important point in this Bill in starting to look at online retailers facilitating the sale and that is making a difference, particularly with international trade. Does my hon. Friend agree that this should be expanded beyond just VAT into things like the extent of producer responsibility and other aspects of international trade?
Yes, I do. We all know that the best way of driving down prices and driving service for our consumers—our citizens—is through a free, competitive marketplace. Our job, wherever we can, is to let that marketplace do its work. Our job is also to make sure that it sits on a fair and level playing field. My hon. Friend, in talking about regulation for some of the retailers—some of the UK businesses but not businesses abroad—makes a very sound point that the Government should consider.
Going back to country-by-country reporting, let me give an example. Google’s turnover in the UK is about £10 billion. We can work that out by extrapolating certain figures from a couple of years ago. Internationally, it declared a 22% profit margin, which means a £2.2 billion profit in the UK. Based on corporation tax at 19%, it should pay £420 million in tax on that. Last year it actually paid £67 million in tax. That cannot be a fair and level playing field for other UK retailers or other UK companies that compete against Google, particularly in terms of advertising space—many of our regional papers, for example. I would like the Government to bring forward legislation, in some vehicle or other, to tackle that issue.
I am very pleased that this loophole is being closed and I very much commend the principles and the outline of the legislation that we will see tomorrow.
It is extraordinary that we have not yet had sight of the Bill and that all we have is a single sheet of A4, just 23 days until the end of the transition period. The Minister did not offer much this afternoon other than to merely say he regarded Opposition amendment (a) as unnecessary. I regret that our trust in the Government’s promises and assurances has run rather thin this autumn. In the absence of the publication of formal texts, I have not been persuaded by the Minister’s arguments this afternoon.
This has been a very wide-ranging and interesting debate, and we have heard some diverse voices. I was particularly interested, as I am sure the House was, to see the knights of Maastricht swinging a leg as they get into the saddle once more and go into battle—always an interesting sight. I thank Bridget Phillipson and my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake for reminding us that this is a complex and difficult process. It is not straightforward to negotiate with another party at the same time as seeking to make legislation, and we recognise that.
I want to quickly pick up on a couple of the points that arose in the debate. I rather differ from my hon. Friend Sir William Cash in thinking of this as the most important constitutional moment since 1688. I might respectfully offer the Act of Union 1707 or even the Act of Union 1801 as possible alternatives.
Imagination in tax is of great interest to the Treasury, but that must come after the transition period has ended and we have regained this full measure of sovereignty. That is the moment to think about these issues in the wide way that my right hon. Friend John Redwood described. This is a technical matter of putting into place the requirements for us to leave in as orderly a way as possible.
Sammy Wilson, on classically robust form, rightly highlighted the lack of balance in this debate relating to the European Union, and I thank him for that. I remind the hon. Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) that the rules as they stand were that all goods going into Northern Ireland were to be considered at risk. The “notwithstanding” clauses were designed to protect us against that transparently absurd outcome, which would have had the effect that a bag of salad brought in for sale in a Northern Ireland supermarket was considered an at-risk good and was therefore treated on that basis. That cannot be right. In advancing the “notwithstanding” clauses, the Government were seeking a perfectly sensible and proper readjustment to the situation. I am delighted that those clauses have been withdrawn, and with that good message, I commend these motions to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided: Ayes 264, Noes 360.
Question accordingly negatived.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Main Question put and agreed to.
That provision (including provision imposing and regulating new duties of customs) may be made in connection with goods in Northern Ireland and their movement into and out of Northern Ireland (whether the movement begins or ends in Great Britain or elsewhere).