Confidence-boosting tax cuts should form part of the ‘no deal’ preparations

Confidence-boosting tax cuts should form part of the ‘no deal’ preparations

Thus far, a lot of the discussion about preparations for a “no deal” Brexit has been about mitigating any disruption. It is always sensible to plan for any contingency – even if it would be temporary or unlikely to occur at all.

But there has been undue hyperbole. The Tory MP Dominic Grieve warns of a “state of emergency” where “basic
services might not be available” and “we wouldn’t get medicines in” and there would be “difficulties bringing food in”. But of the 195 countries in the world there are 167 countries which are not members of the European Union. Most of them are not in a state of siege.

There have been suggestions of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic – with customs checkpoints and perhaps a Trumpian wall. Utter fantasy. The British would not establish a hard border. Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach, says the Irish Republic won’t have one on their side. The EU says they won’t demand it. Under what circumstances would any one set it up? The reality is that the Irish and British customs authorities would carry on in the same way they do today.

Another scare story is that the planes wouldn’t fly. “What about aeroplane slots?” asks Lord Finkelstein. But as John Redwood has said:

“Many air travel routes carry on daily around the world without a formal Air Services Agreement. All you need is a landing permission in the airport you are going to, and you need to get a flight path from air traffic control in controlled space. If there is no deal then the UK will of course allow EU carriers to continue with the landing slots they currently have, and the rest of the EU will do the same for UK carriers. The EU will not want to ban plane loads of UK tourists and other visitors from going to their countries and will not want to lose the landing revenues at their airports.”

Language matters. Sir Bernard Jenkin says that the term “no deal” is a “misnomer” as we would be part of the World Trade Organisation framework and so deal with the EU along with everyone else on that basis. A fair point – but I’m afraid we are probably stuck with the term and the resulting challenge to provide reassurance about its implications.

However, that does not mean that the only focus should be on defensive damage limitation exercises. We should also set out how we would use the new powers that we would have after 29th March next year in the event of a “no deal” or “clean” Brexit.

One decision would be regarding tariffs. Under WTO rules without any trade deals we would have to treat everyone equally. But that would not stop us providing an immediate shift towards free trade. In a BBC interview Professor Patrick Minford suggests “first of all we would get rid of all the tariffs on goods we don’t produce which are there to protect EU producers”. Next we should abolish all the tariffs on inputs – all the parts needed for the supply chain. So that would also help our exporters. We should make clear now that those tariffs would go immediately if there is a “no deal”.

Another area would be fishing. Under the Chequers proposals we would stay in the Commons Fisheries Policy until December 2020. With a “no deal” clean Brexit we would be out in March. Our fishermen would welcome “crashing out” of the CFP – the sooner, the better. Let’s set out now what rules we would establish if we became an independent coastal state from next spring.

Then there is the vulgar matter of money. Part of the “no deal” preparations should include tax cuts. These plans should be announced now to boost business confidence. According to the OBR if we were still an EU member in 2019/20, we would be paying £19.4 billion gross and £11.1 billion net.

If we left under the Chequers plan, we would pay £39 billion over many years – but with it heavily “front loaded” with perhaps half being paid in the first two years. The OBR estimate this would be £7 billion – £10 billion for each of the first two years.

That would already provide savings compared to full membership – and it has already been identified that this will help pay for increased spending on the NHS.

But a “no deal” Brexit would allow extra savings – including of around £8 billion for the next financial year. We should announce now that it would be used for tax cuts and indicate which ones.

We could, for a start, abolish Air Passenger Duty. That raises £3.5 billion a year. Scrapping it would send out a positive message, especially to the young, about global Britain being keen to promote trade and tourism.

Another business friendly tax cut could be putting the Annual Investment Allowance back up to £500,000 – which applied until 2015. When George Osborne introduced that as a temporary boost in the 2014 Budget, it was estimated by the Treasury that it would lose them £2 billion in revenue over two years. It could even be made unlimited so that all investment spending could be offset against profits. There could also be a further cut in Corporation Tax.

Of course there is a strong argument that many of these tax cuts would not lose revenue anyway – at least in the medium to long term. But that extra £8 billion Brexit saving would allow the Chancellor to prudently budget for a loss of revenue and so be emboldened to proceed with these tax cuts.

Not all the tax cuts need go to business. What about a no-deal dividend for the low paid? At present anyone earning over £8,424 a year has to pay National Insurance. That threshold is absurdly low and should be raised. Doing so would reward the incentive to work.

Last year Philip Hammond told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag said that if the EU refused the UK a free trade deal:

“…we could be forced to change our economic model, and we will have to change our model to regain competitiveness. And you can be sure we will do whatever we have to do. The British people are not going to lie down and say ‘too bad, we’ve been wounded’. We will change our model and we will come back, and we will be competitively engaged.”

Strong stuff. Making an early announcement of £8 billion of preliminary tax cuts would be a modest start to enforcing the message.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said Franklin Roosevelt of the New Deal. That sentiment applies to a No Deal. There would be no reason to lack confidence in investing in Britain. Some bold and positive announcements of our future plans should help to quell any doubts.