ALEX BRUMMER: Britain MUST remain open for business

ALEX BRUMMER: With much of the world’s air traffic grounded and non-essential shops in England trapped in a second lockdown, Britain MUST remain open for business

  • Bicester Village, Oxfordshire been magnet for tourists from China & Asia-Pacific 
  • Alex Brummer warns it is bad time to suspend VAT refunds for overseas visitors 
  • ‘Flies in the face of the “Global Britain” slogan following Brexit referendum’ 

Boris Johnson’s Government will shoot itself in the foot if it persists in pressing ahead with a Treasury plan to suspend VAT refunds for overseas visitors to the UK.

The policy flies directly in the face of the ‘Global Britain’ slogan adopted following the Brexit referendum.

There could be no worse time to penalise the shopping emporia favoured by foreign tourists to the UK.

Bicester Village in Oxfordshire, (pictured in 2019) with its cluster of luxury shops selling the finest goods at a discount, has been a magnet for tourists to the UK

Bicester Village in Oxfordshire, with its cluster of luxury shops selling the finest goods at a discount, has been a magnet for tourists to the UK.

It is the favoured choice of visitors from China and the broader Asia-Pacific who delight in British and overseas designer labels from Paul Smith and Burberry to Dior.

With much of the world’s air traffic grounded and non-essential shops in England trapped in a second lockdown, the most famous names in British retail are gasping for air. 

Not only is Bicester suffering but so are upmarket shopping centres such the Westfield malls up and down the country and some of the most celebrated names in UK retail from Selfridges to Fortnum & Mason.

Even mighty Harrods, in London’s swish Knightsbridge, has been forced to lay off some 700 staff. The concern is that if the VAT tax break is removed well-heeled visitors to the UK from around the world will divert to Paris, Milan or Berlin.

One can understand why the Treasury, in a desperate search for new tax revenues to help close a bruising budget deficit of £400billion this year, is anxious to close loopholes.

Not only is Bicester suffering but so are upmarket shopping centres such the Westfield malls up and down the country and some of the most celebrated names in UK retail from Selfridges to Fortnum & Mason (pictured in 2019) 

It believes that as much as £1.4billion of VAT revenues could potentially be lost after Brexit because European visitors could also take advantage of the 20 per cent refund on purchases. The timing of the proposed clampdown in January 2021 is terrible.

Economic experts are counting on a robust recovery of the economy next year as Covid-19 test and trace becomes more effective and the first vaccines are available.

Rejuvenation of the travel, tourism and hospitality enterprises, which are a large part of the UK’s services-driven commerce, is essential to prosperity, living standards and jobs.

Even mighty Harrods (pictured), in London’s swish Knightsbridge, has been forced to lay off some 700 staff

Some 4.96million tourists from outside the EU visit Britain each year with more than 1.2million taking advantage of the scheme. The fear is that if VAT is imposed some 138,000 jobs could be placed in jeopardy and some of most famous names in British shopping – known around the world – could collapse.

Air traffic would be diverted to other European capitals, hotels in the biggest cities across the country could suffer and tourist destinations would be bereft of business.

There is a well of opinion sympathetic to the case for ditching the proposed policy inside Whitehall’s Culture and Business departments.

Rishi Sunak and HMRC must beat an urgent retreat from a plainly anti-Tory and free enterprise policy which would deprive the nation of valuable foreign currency and jobs.

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