The UK Parliament cannot abolish the tampon tax. The UK government lost a court case in the ECJ over keeping our VAT rate on green products at 5%. We have been ordered to raise the rate to 20%, making it much dearer to insulate our homes or fit heat pumps. We cannot take VAT off domestic fuel though that would ease pressures on family budgets and cut fuel poverty.
The Remain side say the negotiations included a provision to let the UK and other states have more flexibility over VAT lower rates. On April 7th the EU issued what it wants to do on VAT, to the total silence of the UK media even though this was an important statement rather like a Budget, affecting a major tax which the EU controls.
The main thrust of the Commission’s Action Plan for VAT is more centralisation. They want more control over cross border VAT, more control over tax fraud cases, and a new clarity in how and where VAT is levied. They will doubtless achieve their centralising ends, and they propose legislation this year to do so.
They offer two models for possible legislation in 2017 to give more flexibility to member states. They say they could examine the current list of exemptions and permissions for lower rates to see if others should be added. No additions are proposed in the document to cover the UK requirements, and any such changes would require the consent of the other member states. Or they say they could allow member states to choose their own lower rates, but this would have to be subject to new controls to stop tax competition and damage to the single market. In other words member states would not be free to choose their lower rate items as they wished.
More interestingly the Commission says either of these changes would require clear political directions from the member states as a whole and from the European Parliament. There is no statement that this has to be delivered to meet the terms of the UK renegotiation, no sense of urgency, no sign of any Special Status on tax for the UK.
It looks as if the delegation of more authority to states to choose lower rate VAT is far from a done deal and not an EU priority. The Commission document has helpfully reminded us of who is in charge on VAT, and set out a course for a more centralised VAT system.
The EU has also been doing work on a fiscal union with more control over member states taxes generally.
The conclusion to all this is that the UK is still not allowed to repeal the tampon tax and has to put up its VAT on green products to comply with the ECJ ruling. There is no reliable relief in sight. So where are the results of the UK’s renegotiation? Why doesn’t the EU simply have to change the law to allow us to alter our VAT rates?