At the end of last month the UK formally triggered Article 50 and the Government published a White Paper on the Repeal Bill, which has clarified how the UK will treat existing European Case law after the UK leaves the EU. This will impact on the future of VAT. Details of the repeal bill can be found here
Currently the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA) gives effect to EU treaties in UK law and provides for the supremacy of EU law. It also requires UK courts to follow the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Some EU law applies directly without the need for UK implementing legislation, but other parts of EU law have to be implemented in the UK through via domestic legislation.
The intention is that the Repeal Bill will repeal the ECA. It will also convert EU law into UK law as it stands at the point of the UK’s exit from the EU. This will give some certainty to businesses and allow them to continue operating in the knowledge that rules will not change significantly and suddenly on the UK’s exit from the EU. It will then be down to Parliament or where appropriate, the devolved legislatures, to amend, repeal or change any piece of EU law (once it has been brought into UK law) once the UK is out of the EU.
The Bill creates powers to make secondary legislation to enable corrections to be made to laws that would otherwise no longer operate appropriately once the UK leaves the EU and will also enable changes to domestic law to reflect the content of any withdrawal agreement made under Article 50. It will also give the UK Government once we havelef the EU powers to change the scope and operation of domestic VAT .
Existing EU case law
Following the EU referendum, there had been significant speculation and varying views on how the UK would treat existing CJEU case law, and its impact on the UK tax legislation once the UK leaves the EU. The repeal bill clarifies that case law precedent from the CJEU will continue to apply (for a time at least) and that any uncertainties/disagreements over the meaning of UK law after the UK leaves the EC derived from EU cases will be decided by reference to the CJEU case law as it exists on the day the UK leaves. So the European Court of Justice will no longer have any jurisdiction in the UK, but its existing case law, up to the date of withdrawal, will continue to be binding on UK courts as they interpret EU law that has been converted into domestic law.
The bill is therefore likely to give CJEU case law similar precedent status to decisions of the UK Supreme Court and both HMRC and appellants may continue to rely on case law as they have up to this point. After exit UK legislation (including that relating to UK VAT) passed by Parliament will take precedence over preserved EU-derived law and thus UK VAT and tax law is likely to start to diverge from EU law gradually as UK case law develops. The Office of Tax Simplification is also currently considering changes to UK VAT that could be made once the UK exits the EU.
Some bills will be necessary to ensure the law continues to function properly from day one, and this includes a Customs bill to establish a framework to implement a UK Customs regime, because this cannot be met by incorporating EU law.
The likelihood is that a Customs border will come into existence early in 2019 with the potential to cause disruption to movement of goods coming in and out of the UK. It is hoped that the Government will publish proposals as soon as possible. The Customs Declaration Services (CDS) programme was intended to replace the existing system for handling import and export freight (CHIEF) from January 2019. Now that the Government has made a decision to leave the EU Customs Union, there is serious concern that this project will be in place on time.
There is still much uncertainty which can only be addressed when the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU are clearer.