by Joe Ventre, digital campaign manager
This week, the government released a paper laying out the benefits of Brexit. Almost six long years after the country voted leave, we were finally clued in on what exactly politicians intend to do with it. For taxpayers, the vision left a lot to be desired.
Let’s firstly be clear where the TaxPayers’ Alliance is coming from. We didn’t endorse either side in the referendum. Our staff voted in different ways. Our focus is on getting the nation living within its means and arguing for lower, simpler taxes, better public services with less waste and accountability for those in power. Hopefully things we can all agree on!
So does this new Brexit vision deliver? Unfortunately, not really.
Let’s start with the positives. We no longer pay EU budget contributions, meaning we can hold our own politicians and bureaucrats accountable for the money they waste. Government is able to pursue some new tax cuts that simply weren’t possible within the European Union - namely VAT. Tariff reductions on imports will help bring down the cost of living. The paper also talks about a cut on air passenger duty (great) and reforms to alcohol duties (not so great). Freeports are undoubtedly a good thing. There’s plenty of reassuring language in there about reducing burdens on small businesses and making trade easier.
So far, so good. But let’s be honest - it’s not all that much. The tax reforms mentioned will barely touch the rapid rises in the overall tax burden, which is approaching a 70 year high courtesy of national insurance and corporation tax, among other things. Blue passports and the return of the crown stamp may be welcome to many, but none of these will make a dent in the lifetime tax burden for the average household, now standing at over £1.1 million.
On regulation, the picture is even bleaker. Time and time again, we’re told the vision is for ‘better regulation’, but there are few concrete examples of where this could mean the government doing less. We can have new rules for zero emissions cars, flying vehicles, alcoholic drinks, clinical trials and financial services - but the areas where we can look forward to less red tape are limited. Worst of all, the paper confirms ministers have junked a ‘one-in-two-out’ rule - apparently because they: “do not think it is consistent with delivering world-class regulation to support the economy in adapting to a new wave of technological revolution or to achieving net zero.” The document mentions ‘net zero’ 33 times, yet ‘deregulation’ doesn’t get a look in.
It’s also slim pickings on delivering better and more efficient public services. We’re promised new procurement rules so that the public sector can buy more local goods and services. Taxpayers will be more worried about value for money - and getting services that actually work - than where it’s shipped from. And the paper commits the taxpayer to evermore spending commitments, in the form of new quangos and even agricultural subsidies (which could cost £3.8 billion by 2025-26). Given that government debt was £2.2 trillion at the end of March 2021 (103.7 per cent of GDP) with a deficit of £327.6 billion (15.3 per cent of GDP, or 4.5 percentage points higher than the EU average), Brexit can’t just be about spending more money.
On accountability, the proposals actually take us backwards. The new subsidy control regime sets higher thresholds for publication than were expected in the EU, with potentially 64 per cent of subsidies handed out not having to be reported. Good for the firms trousering these stealth subsidies of course, but bad for the taxpayers who have to pay for them.
If politicians want to argue that Brexit has been a good thing for the British taxpayer, they’ll need to scrap red tape, tackle green subsidies and get the public finances back in the black. Blue passports alone won’t be enough!