Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
Andrew Jones Excerpts
Tuesday 15th December 2020

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury

Through all of this, the Government have seized powers for themselves—it is not about taking back control to this place, but about taking control back from civil servants in Brussels to civil servants in Whitehall. We would all be well advised to look more carefully at the powers and how the Government intend to use them.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) about the importance of the “notwithstanding” clauses and about how unelected people should not seek to overturn democratic decisions. I agree strongly that we have seen attempts to overturn democratic decisions over the past four years, and they have been a stain on the democratic history of our country. We had a vote by the British people that had to be followed through on.

I disagree with my hon. Friend about the clauses, however. Putting them back in will not be viewed as an enormously helpful measure by those negotiating a deal, especially while our Prime Minister is out trying to get a deal that we can accept. Bringing the clauses back in will not be particularly helpful for that.

The Labour party has put forward some suggestions about providing clarity for business. That is a reasonable point because, clearly, we need to provide clarity for business. I come back from a business background, and knowing the environment that one is in helps to facilitate investment decisions. However, I have to say, the Treasury knows that. I spent some time working in the Treasury, and it gets that. It does not need to be told that. It will execute the Bill in as timely a way as it can, providing all the clarity that it can. That does not need to be legislated for.

We have had delays, because people have sought to overturn—ultimately, to negate—a democratic decision. I voted to remain in the referendum, but I immediately understood that it was a vote of the British people, and that the British people are bigger than individual politicians. Only recently have some people been able to work that one out.

The measures in the Bill are about the continuity of trade across all four parts of the UK. That is something that we should all be acutely aware of, because it is bigger than any other trade deal that could possibly be discussed anywhere.

The point in the Bill about creating a more level playing field between the online and the high street worlds of retail is, again, something that I think we should all be able to support easily. Everybody, I am sure, has had representations from retailers in their constituencies about how challenging the past few years have been. Obviously the clock cannot be turned back in any way—this is about embracing the future—but we must make sure that as retailers evolve the offer of our high streets, they are able to do so with a more level playing field. That is the objective we should be seeking in our policy.

I want to see such measures enacted as soon as possible, frankly. We are in uncertain times, and I want us to get to the position in which we can offer business as much clarity as possible, as soon as possible. I will therefore be supporting not the new clauses, but the Bill as it stands.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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It is a shame that the Bill has been rushed through the House so rapidly. Members have had a short amount of time in which to get to grips with a rather technical and lengthy piece of legislation. The small number of amendments tabled today speaks to the incredibly tight time limits that have been put in place. Given the impact of the legislation on businesses operating across Northern Ireland and Great Britain, that concerns me, and it should concern us all.

For me, the Bill speaks to the heart of the many contradictions of Brexit—between what was promised in 2016 and what is being delivered today. We were told that Parliament will take back control, but this Executive, peopled by the same individuals who made those promises, have arguably more contempt for the legislature than any before them. That is summed up by an incredibly depressing piece of legislation, presented a couple of weeks ago, to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which attempts to engineer the first ever return of powers from the legislature to the Executive in our history.

However, the contradictions do not end there. A case in point is clause 6 of this Bill on the uprating of fuel duty for aviation gasoline, which, for me, is a microcosm of the whole Brexit process. The whole point of Brexit was to get our sovereignty back—was it not?—so that we could finally write our own laws rather than follow bureaucratic regulations from Brussels, the sort of stiflingly dull directives with boring names such as EU energy tax directive (Council Directive 2003/96/EC). We might have thought that directive was exactly the sort of red tape we would finally cut through in Brexit Britain, and yet the Bill proves that the reality is far removed from the rhetoric, because EU energy tax directive (Council Directive 2003/96/EC), which ensures that across the EU a minimum level of tax is applied on a whole type of aircraft fuel, is in this Bill being applied across the whole of the UK.

The explanatory notes rather patriotically inform us that,

“the UK is not bound to comply with the Directive in respect of Great Britain (GB) from 1 January 2021,”

but none the less Great Britain is complying with it anyway. Does that not say a lot about Brexit and the current trade negotiations, where effectively the Government have been toying with the idea of taking maximum tariff pain now in order to allow regulatory divergence that, in all likelihood, is not going to take place?

Turning now to the amendments, I agree with amendments 1 and 2 and new clause 3, tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. Economic assessments have been conspicuously lacking over the past few months, covid notwithstanding: not only a lack of assessments of the impact of any potential deal with the EU, but the refusal of the Secretary of State for International Trade to tell us whether any of the trade deals she has struck will actually leave us any better off than our current trading relationships. The other conspicuous absentee when it comes to the economic impact of all this is the Chancellor. I find it very surprising that he has said very little about the threat of no deal, during a time when the UK finds itself in the midst of its worst economic crisis.

It is entirely right that we carry out proper economic assessments of all that, not least for Northern Ireland. I remember during the election campaign last year the Prime Minister was caught on camera telling Northern Ireland businesses that,

“Northern Ireland has got a great deal. You keep free movement, you keep access to the single market”.

In the words of the Foreign Secretary, Northern Ireland has “a cracking deal” because it has access to the EU market. Meanwhile, as we teeter on the edge of no deal, we are told by the Culture Secretary that things “will be choppy”, but that “we can survive”. I am sure those words will be a comfort to many of my constituents.

Finally, I turn to new clause 1 and new clause 2. During the debate on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill earlier, I spoke about what a disaster the notwithstanding clauses in that legislation were for the future of the UK and elsewhere. I will not repeat myself, because exactly the same applies here; all I ask is for the Minister to give a guarantee that, if there is no deal with the EU, international lawbreaking clauses will not be introduced in this or any future business. We cannot afford to let a no-deal scenario be a proxy for further actions that are hugely damaging to our international reputation. For that to be the UK’s first action once it left the EU would be a truly regrettable matter indeed.