Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 9th December 2020.

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Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 3:46 pm, 9th December 2020

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that very relevant point. I am sure that it is not only Opposition Members but Government Members who have had many businesses contacting them, often in despair, about the communications and advertisements asking them to get ready when there is so little indication of what they have to get ready for.

Yesterday morning, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee heard from the Food and Drink Federation, which said that the guidance being published now was already too late. Some 43% of its members who supply Northern Ireland have said that they will not do so in the first three months of next year. That is desperately worrying. TheCityUK said that in the worst-case scenario, 40% of the UK’s EU-related financial activity could be lost. Every day between now and the end of the year counts to get a deal, and failing that, to plan for the no-deal outcome that the Prime Minister himself conceded would represent a failure of statecraft.

With that in mind, Labour supports this Bill passing. Labour is a responsible Opposition, and we are determined to see the minimum disruption possible, but we cannot support such continued lack of clarity on critical issues. When businesses need clarity as a matter of urgency, it is not good enough to state that further guidance will be forthcoming. At the very least, they need a timetable for the provision of that greater certainty. They need to know what rules of origin will apply from 1 January. The continued lack of clarity could create unprecedented new costs. They need to know when appropriate tariff codes will be published. They need to know whether the Government will be providing easements, and they need to know these things in concrete terms, not through the winks and nudges that have substituted for clarity so far.

Businesses need to know whether there will be a pause in penalties arising out of this legislation and, if so, what would be done to counterbalance that and prevent wilful avoidance. They need to know whether the measures in the Bill countermand the existing guidance provided to Northern Irish businesses, some of which was updated just on 7 December. They need to know, as revealed in The Irish Times, whether and when the information on the trusted trader scheme for Northern Irish business—details of which have allegedly been coming out of internal communications —is going to be fully published, so that businesses can follow that scheme.

I want to end my contribution by asking the Minister to place himself in the shoes of a small manufacturing company. We have many excellent such companies across the United Kingdom—in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain. Companies will already have faced enormous challenges during this period because of covid. Potentially, they have staff off because they have to self-isolate. Potentially, there is continuing uncertainty about the future of furlough because of this Government’s unwillingness to provide that certainty. Potentially, they were counting on the job retention bonus, but they are not going to receive it. They are now trying to plan which members of staff they will need to have in the company at work to get ready for 1 January. The stress and strain are immense.

The Minister and his Government must do all they can to overcome those uncertainties and help businesses to plan. That is the least they can do for businesses and the people who work for them, who have had such a hard year.