Never mind Brexit, what does “Smexit” mean for UK tax?
by Robert Leggett
As I write this, I have just got out of the car, where I have been listening
to Teresa May’s press conference on her stance for Brexit. This has got me
thinking about what effect her announcement that we will be moving to a full
scale “Smexit” (Single Market Exit) will have for tax.
Ever since the referendum, people have been asking me what impact Brexit will
have on tax. My stock answer has been that “we really don’t have a clue yet; so
much will depend on whether we remain in the single market or not”. Now we have
So why does this matter for tax?
Clearly membership of the European Union comes with many restrictions on what
National Governments are allowed to do, but when it comes to tax, many of these
would still have applied if we were remaining a member of the Single Market.
For instance, significant changes were made to the Enterprise Investment
Scheme in 2015, which made it much more restrictive. These were driven by the
need for the UK to comply with State Aid rules; something which we would still
have been subject to in the Single Market. The R&D tax credits scheme is
similarly restricted, and it could well be that future Governments will want to
take advantage of more freedom to incentivise such areas further.
VAT is a European tax. We didn’t even have VAT before our Common Market
membership; instead, we had a Purchase Tax which was levied on the wholesale
price of goods. Whilst it seems highly unlikely that the Government’s third
most lucrative tax will be scrapped any time soon, if we are no longer within
the ambit of European rules and case law of the European court, we could see
significant changes aimed at simplification, fairness and competitiveness.
Freed from the principle of freedom of establishment, expect changes to how
businesses move around. There are certain tax protections offered now for
businesses moving from the UK to elsewhere in the EU, which might prevent
certain “exit taxes” which would apply if moving outside of the Union. We can
probably expect the future rules to be pretty much the same whether these
movements happen with EU countries or those further afield.
Transfer pricing is another area. UK to UK transfer pricing was only applied
as it was contrary to freedom of establishment to insist on this between
connected parties in two EU member states, but not between UK connected
The list goes on.
Of course, if we are to negotiate a myriad of free trade agreements, not just
with the EU and the USA, but many other too, then it is possible that these will
still impose some restrictions on what tax policies the Government can follow,
especially as respects to businesses and citizens of those other countries. The
same is true of our network of bi-lateral double tax treaties.
However, what is now clear is that if Teresa May is successful, then the
Government of the day (whoever they may be) is likely to have a level of control
over what they do with the tax system which is unprecedented within my
lifetime. What they will do with this new found power is anybody’s guess. As a
tax adviser, this excites me at the possibilities, but equally fills me with
dread at what a Government might do!
The world of tax has some interesting times ahead!