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My Lords, I support the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Purvis, and the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, who asked me to mention that he is unable to be here but that he continues to support the amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, introduced the amendments admirably and explained very clearly why those parts of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act which we seek to change are either unnecessary or damaging. He is absolutely right to say that the least important is probably the European Research Group amendment passed at a very late stage in the Commons, which we had no chance to intervene on effectively when it came through this House because it was a money Bill.
However, one part of it makes collection of customs duties possible only if the European Union collects customs duties and give them to us. The original idea was that we would collect duties on behalf of the European Union; this was an essential part of the—now lost in the mists of time and buried deep under the soil—Chequers plan. The European Research Group amendment, frankly, neutered the Chequers plan, but as the European Union was never going to accept it anyway and made it clear at Salzburg and later that it would not accept it, there seems no point leaving it on the statute book.
The last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, relating to Amendment 80 about VAT is actually extremely important. Anyone who seriously believes that preventing the British Government maintaining a VAT union, if you would like to call it that—a system that enables trade across borders between us and the European Union without the need for extremely elaborate VAT calculations, inspections, payments and so on—and doing away with that which exists now and going back to where we were before that existed will not put a huge amount of friction on our trade simply does not understand the realities. The VAT aspect is just as important as the tariff aspect and is separate from it. Unfortunately, the European Research Group—in its usual extraordinarily constructive way—has managed to insert something here that would be really damaging to our interests if it is sustained when we go into negotiations with the European Union about future trade arrangements. The only sensible thing to do—I hope the Government will give careful thought to this—is to get rid of this now and take it out of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act.
We cannot be certain now what the Government and the European Union will do when negotiating our future trade arrangements. The Government are quite right to say they cannot guarantee how that will go. But they can remove this great ball and chain around their ankle, put there by the European Research Group, which would be really damaging to us if it ever came to be a central part of our future trade relationship. To say that relationship will be frictionless if the VAT aspect is not dealt with is just a bad joke, frankly, if you have to have VAT inspections, payments and all that sort of thing on goods that are passing. After all, the VAT levels are different in every member state, and the current system enables us to live with that without slowing down or impeding trade; that would go. So I really hope the Government—if not tonight, at least before Report—could say that they will take out that amendment, which should never have been allowed in. This is the single most important amendment in this group of four.