8 December 2020
Jesse Norman introduces Taxation (Post-transition Period) resolution

Jesse Norman moves a Bill to set out a new framework for the UK’s customs, VAT and excise systems following the end of the Brexit transition period to ensure the smooth continuation of business across the UK and meet our commitments to the people and businesses of Northern Ireland in relation to the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.


The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

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.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)

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.

Jesse Norman 

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 the Member for Stone (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.

Sir William Cash 

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.

Jesse Norman 

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.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

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 1 January are not in place. Will the Minister update the House on what the Government are doing to rectify that situation to meet the technical provisions that he is bringing forward?

Jesse Norman 

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.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

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?

Jesse Norman 

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.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)

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?

Jesse Norman 

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.

Sammy Wilson 

Will the Minister give way?

Jesse Norman 

I will give way once more, and then I will make some progress.

Sammy Wilson 

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?

Jesse Norman 

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.

Alan Brown 

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?

Jesse Norman 

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.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)

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?

Jesse Norman 

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.

Sir William Cash 

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?

Jesse Norman 

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 1 January next year, and it will play a part in safeguarding the unity and integrity of this country, both in the months ahead and long into the future. I therefore commend these resolutions to the House.


At the conclusion of the debate


Jesse Norman 

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 the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (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 the Member for Stone (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 the Member for Wokingham (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.

The right hon. Member for East Antrim (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.