Tag Archives: EU

Guest blog from Nicholas Turner – Brexit, The Right Way To Leave

I have mostly stayed out of the Brexit debate because, as someone who has lived in Italy, France and Hungary and as someone who absolutely loves all the different European cultures, I have never been in any doubt we should Brexit – so there is no debate for me. I have lots of reasons why I feel this and mostly because I feel we aren’t just losing our ability to run our own Country, we and the rest of Europe risk losing our cultural identity – which is, I think, a terrifying prospect.

However, this blog isn’t about my views. Neither is this guest post a blog – it’s a seriously considered essay written by my step son, Nicholas Turner (yes, Nick & Nikki Turner does cause confusion in the Turner household).  Not for the feint hearted because it’s not a short document and it’s certainly nothing like my blogs which tend to be about immediate reaction – “this is what has happened today.” Nick has considered long and hard all aspects of the ‘In or Out’ debate and this essay documents his conclusion.

I hope those people who really do have concerns about staying in Europe, will read this. Equally I hope those people who are sure we should stay will read it and consider the content. Any comments gratefully received and I will pass them on to Nick.

Please click on the link below to read the document

Brexit The Right Way To Leave

Advertisements

Can anyone save Greece and, while we’re at it, can we also save Mozzarella from EU lunacy?

Having lived in Italy both pre and post the European Union, I’m surprised this EU marriage of assorted incompatible countries, which was definitely not a marriage made in heaven, has lasted this long. Historically, European Governments (and certainly in Mediterranean countries) have had enormous difficulty in efficiently running their own economies – so the idea that a central Government, run by bureaucrats from innocuous offices in Brussels could manage them all, was always a Panglossian scenario doomed to end up with one country or another or several ending up in the stew.

I don’t doubt there was some good intention behind forming the European Union. Open borders, one currency, easy trading – but it was always tenuous. We live on an Island and our only neighbours are Scotland (and that’s going well!!) Wales and Ireland and even those relationships are littered with dissent and the demand for independence. All the same, we just about manage to stay together under the heading of Great Britain and we have done for many years. But the relationship between the Italians, French, Germans and the Spanish (to name but a few European neighbours) prior to the EU, was frequently as collaborative and friendly as rival Pitbulls. The idea that Europe would unite and merge cultural and economic identities under one banner and one rule was always quite extraordinary.

Neither was it properly considered. Due diligence would have told anyone we are so culturally diverse in Europe, any collective rule book would have been as useful as a manual on aerospace technology for three year olds. The idea that Greece or Italy (for example) would conform to the same rules as Germany or France was just daft. I lived on the Italian French border for many years and the difference between Ventimiglia and Menton (about 5 miles distance) was so enormous it was just like entering a different country – because it was! What part of signing membership to the EU changed that scenario?

In my opinion the EU was never about what was best for people and always about what was best for the financial sector. And sooner or later it was always going to become impossible for voters in any country to have confidence in a system designed solely to feed the banks to the detriment of all else.

If the IMF decide in their wisdom to lay the blame entirely with the Greek people for this crisis, then I suggest they will find find they have a similar crisis with Spain and Italy (for starters) in the very near future. Even if (as the media would have us believe) Greeks really are the laziest and least trustworthy people in Europe – by whose standards are we judging them? By German standards? Are we saying Greeks are different to the Germans or the French and therefore they must change? Do the Greeks want to be like the Germans or the French? Or do they just want to be Greeks? Was the Greek economy on a sure footing before they joined the EU?

Ah but, I can hear people saying, in that case, they shouldn’t have joined Europe and borrowed so much money which they can’t pay back. And who engineered that situation? And who monitored it? Surely the top economists rounding up European countries for membership had some inkling that Greece was not economically stable – so how exactly did they qualify? As anyone in business (and especially the banking sector) knows, numbers on a page can be rearranged to tell a hundred different stories to a hundred different readers and someone obviously did some exceptional fantasy accounting for Greece. And who ever was regulating these figures somehow failed to notice two and two was never adding up to four.

Some might say it’s rather like the mess RBS or HBOS/Lloyds got themselves into which went (apparently) completely under the radar of the UK regulators. While the bank bosses were telling the world and his wife they were absolutely solvent, the truth of the matter was always bound to come out – they were completely broke and deeply in debt. Of course what happened there was the UK tax payer bailed the banks out even although it caused mass austerity. To add insult to injury, in the UK we continued to plough our banks and our top bankers with money and we refused (unlike Iceland) to hold anyone responsible for the catastrophe the banks caused. We even kept the obscene bonus system going.

Banks across the world were falling like nine pins during the so called ‘credit crunch’ and in the majority of cases the big banks were bailed out because they were “too big to fail.” Countries, it seems, are not. Fair enough – so Greece first and who is next?

The Greeks got themselves into this mess and now they can get themselves out of it is the attitude of the EU leaders. Although I can’t help feeling that the biggest offence Greece has committed against the EU has been to suggest it won’t be dictated to. How dare they tell EU leaders they won’t meekly submit their people to years and years of austerity and misery while they concentrate on pouring every possible Euro they can into paying off a debt that, realistically, is beyond repayment without some write offs? There has been a definite issue of ‘face saving’ here and the EUs big bosses have not taken kindly to the idea that the Greek people could have a say in economic affairs they clearly know nothing about! How many times do the ‘people’ have to be told “leave politics to the grown ups!” Hmmn – I think what they really mean is “leave politics to the bankers” who, as we all know, must continue to be paid millions of pounds for a job well done!

But Greece isn’t the only country in financial turmoil. And obviously the biggest issue with letting the Greek people have a say in their future is (God forbid) other economically badly behaved Europeans may follow suit. Worse still, when the European elite have finished blaming all the people of Europe, they may have to wake up to the fact the people of Europe are getting restless and some of them no longer care what a bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels think. If the EU was run so well and regulated so well, why isn’t it an overwhelming success? Could it be the so called credit crunch was the fly in the ointment? Could it be the financial sector has had a big hand in this problem? Could it be that the big banks like Goldman Sachs (busy doing God’s work) just saw Europe and its populations as a delicious example of cannon fodder? And especially countries like Greece. Sun, sea, chaos, corruption, no taxes – did the EU not know that was the deal with Greece? Did they think people joining the EU and the Euro would automatically abandon their Mediterranean heritage get into straight lines?

Culture with all its good points and its failings is still the very thing that make Europe unique. A host of countries with a completely different way of life dating back hundreds of years. If you wanted to go to somewhere very well organised with fantastic motorways and possibly an over fondness for pork, you went to Germany. If you wanted to go somewhere where life is very laid back, prone to siestas and fiesta’s and with very good fresh fish, you went to Greece or Italy or Spain. You changed your money and deliberately set off to visit somewhere completely different to your own country with different shops, food, habits, architecture and lifestyle. What was wrong with that?

Clearly something was because we now have a system where EU countries must now conform to a bland similarity based on nonsense rules that are totally open to abuse. And apparently some abuse the rules more than others – well there’s a surprise. But I wonder who are the greatest abusers in a decade where corruption is so wide spread? You can get it anywhere these days but some nations hide it better than others and some are better at managing it. Take the UK? Some would call it the money laundering centre of the world – but in EU negotiation terms, butter wouldn’t melt. In my opinion, turning Europe into a franchise of one big corporation like MacDonald’s was never going to work. You were always going to end up with hamburgers containing snails, garlic, anchovies, sardines, sauerkraut and “don’t worry, I make lamb.” Bankers may have thought all European countries would perform unilaterally if they all had the same currency – they couldn’t have been more wrong.

Europeans are ultimately all Nationalists – even the Brits, look at the somersaults the UK Government did to keep Scotland British. You can’t tell Greek or Italian or, heaven help us, the French or German people how to live. You can try and bribe their Governments with grants and loans and swaps, and it all goes swimmingly while there’s plenty of money to dole out. But when the coffers in one country run dry and other richer countries start imposing such harsh austerity people risk losing their shirts, is it surprising we all start remembering we’re individual nations again?

We don’t have the Euro in the UK and that is our saving grace. Love him or hate him David Cameron does put the British point across in his negotiations with Europe and they have to listen. Despite our internal conflicts (Scotland, the power the banks have, austerity blocking justice) we do at least have our own currency and therefore a bigger hand in running our own economy – and even if it’s a mess, neither the Germans nor the French can dictate what’s best for us. Maybe the Greek leaders have realised (before the rest of Europe does) that the views of the people they rule are more important than the corporations who just think they’re so important. Maybe the Greek people just want their country, their dignity and their identity back. And whatever it costs them now, might be less than it costs them (or other EU nations) in the future. Bankers, in the name of the EU, have run riot over Europe in a bulletless war for too long now. Maybe the Greeks are right to fight back?

One final example of why I believe the European Union is ultimately doomed. It’s a small example but it clearly shows the dangerous level of interference the EU wields over national heritage. Last Wednesday I was talking to a very good friend who lives in Ventimiglia. I used to live there and I remember the border coming down. So I was asking my friend how Ventimiglia was coping with the thousands of migrants stranded there because the French have now very definitely put the border back up so the immigrants can’t just wander over to Monte Carlo or St Tropez.

However my friend, who is a great foodie, was intent on telling me about the latest crack pot EU regulation. Check out this headline: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/11704323/Italy-EU-request-for-powdered-milk-in-mozzarella-is-attack-on-cultural-heritage.html

What meddling jobsworth came up with that idea? Is this really the kind of rule the EU was set up to introduce? Does anyone really want to be associated with such idiocy? Oh for the days of bent cucumbers, irregularly shaped tomatoes and interesting foreign currency.

I will keep praying for a miracle solution for the ordinary Greek people caught in the middle of these power struggles. Obviously, at this stage, only a miracle will suffice.

First the Banks – are EU Regs, MOSS VAT & HMRC also trying to kill off UK SMEs?

This is an unscheduled blog because this afternoon I read an article in the Telegraph about a proposed VAT reform which will literally kill off tens of thousands of SMEs. Here’s a link to the article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/11295953/How-the-EU-is-throttling-online-business-with-idiotic-VAT-reform.html In short, what it says is every SME will have to pay VAT on every digital transaction to EU Countries as of January next year and this will expand to physical transactions in 2016. Therefore, even an aspiring author or musician or photographer selling their ebooks, digital images or mp3s – and maybe with a turnover of £5-£10,000 per annum will have to register for VAT, charge it to their EU customers and submit a mountain of paperwork to HMRC. They will also have to register for UK VAT even although they are exempt and under the threshold.

This begs the question of why we are part of the EU when the adverse consequences seem to outweigh the benefits? And what benefits? Surely one of the biggest benefits was we are free to trade with all our EU partners? Here’s a blog from Andrus Ansip at the EU Commission: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/ansip/blog/euvat_en

The first thing I noticed in the blog was this comment “The change in VAT rules was decided democratically, and after years of discussion, by EU Member States in 2008.” Democratically by who? Given it will affect SMEs so dramatically, I wonder how many SMEs were asked how they felt about it? And assuming it was a democratic process in EU terms, i.e the MEPs sat down over a nice lunch and agreed on this, how democratic were individual Governments and specifically ours, in asking if SMEs agreed? Personally I had no idea this was due to happen – maybe I just missed it? Admittedly I was very tied up exposing bank fraud in 2008 (another crippling tool to destroy SMEs) so I may have over looked it because I couldn’t trade my SME back then (or now). And, trailing through Goggle today, I have found plenty of news about this – although no front page news, so I have been asleep at the wheel but that doesn’t excuse the lunacy of it.

Why have the EU done this? Well according to Andrus, “ As I understand it, one of the aims was to establish a level-playing field for smaller companies. No more picking of low VAT countries by larger companies to gain a competitive advantage over SMEs.” Riggghht! This is to stop companies like Amazon exploiting tax loop holes by basing their digital content sales in Luxembourg. Fair enough, Amazon et.al will now have to pay millions in extra VAT payments. But does anyone really think they will absorb this cost? No. They will simply pass the cost on to the consumer. Not just the cost of the VAT but also the huge accountancy costs involved.

Andrus goes on to say “Now, some small and micro companies are worried about what the VAT changes coming on January 1 mean for them.” You bet they are. “Given that this change was adopted six years ago, Member States should have helped businesses to prepare.” Even if they had – what would that change?

Consider this: Joe Bloggs writes a book, turns it into an e-book and promotes and sells it via his own website. The e-book costs the buyer £2.00 + VAT for EU buyers. He sells 50 books in the UK – that’s OK he doesn’t have to charge VAT although he still has to be registered for VAT if he wants to sell in the EU. He sells 10 books in France, 15 in Germany, 5 in Italy and and 20 in Spain because his Aunty Mavis who lives in Benidorm persuades her friends to buy it. So that’s 100 books and 4 different VAT rates. There is apparently a “one stop shop” which will help with these varying VAT rates but I’m not sure how this works or, if I was Joe (and to an extent I am) whether I would want to take that route or just not sell to EU Countries.

Joe will have to do quarterly UK VAT returns even if he doesn’t charge VAT in the UK (he can just fill in 0 in all the boxes – so that’s not a waste of any one’s time!) and do separate VAT returns for his EU sales (no idea what happens with the rest of the world – is that still zero rated?). But because he does charge VAT for the EU he can deduct any expense relating to his EU sales from his overall VAT. And all this will be broken down and documented in the records of sales Joe must keep for years.

Now Joe, who is an excellent writer but not much of an accountant, could possibly struggle with the various rules and regulations he has to comply with – starting with, does he have to register at all or is what he does exempt? For example, these new rules don’t apply to: “supplies of goods, where the ordering and processing are electronic.”

But they do apply to: “images or text, such as photos, screensavers, e-books and other digitised documents e.g. pdf files, music, films and games…..”

I find that a bit confusing because ordering or processing an e-book is all done electronically isn’t it? So I looked at the section of the HMRC document entitled, “What is meant by electronically supplied?” and it explains: “This covers e-services which are automatically delivered over the internet, or an electronic network, where there is minimal or no human intervention. In practice, this means: Where the sale of the digital content is entirely automatic – for eg a customer clicks the ‘buy now’ button on a website and the: content downloads onto their device – customer receives an automated e-mail containing the content.”

So what part of a customer clicking “Buy Now” on your website and then receiving your e-book to download, isn’t covered in the above? Equally confusing is the section entitled “Examples of Electronic Supplies and Whether They Are Digital Services.” According to the chart, if Joe e-mails a pdf (his book) to someone, that is an E Service but it’s not covered by the new rules. However, if his pdf document is automatically e-mailed by the sellers (his) system or automatically downloaded from his site, then it is an E-Service and he does have to pay EU VAT to sell it in Europe. Hang on – didn’t it also say the new rules don’t apply to “supplies of goods, where the ordering and processing are electronic” or where the customer clicks the “buy now” and automatically downloads?

I won’t go through the rest of the document because I’m confused enough but here it is: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/revenue-and-customs-brief-46-2014-vat-rule-change-and-the-vat-mini-one-stop-shop-additional-guidance/revenue-and-customs-brief-46-2014-vat-rule-change-and-the-vat-mini-one-stop-shop-additional-guidance

I have a horrible feeling this EU VAT reform will be an absolute disaster for SMEs and it will either cause a lot to just stop trading or, it will cause them to stop bothering to be independent. What will be the point of Joe doing all this hard work (over and above writing his books) when the easiest option will be to sell it on Amazon in the first place and let them do the accountancy exercise? Yes Joe will get less money so Amazon can have a cut and his book will cost more because Amazon will pass on the EU VAT costs to the customers – but at least Joe won’t have a nervous breakdown doing a mountain of paperwork (which will no doubt result in massive fines if he gets it wrong) in order to sell 50 e-books to Europe. And there are 1000’s of Joe Bloggs in this Country who will do the same. I would even advise them to do so. So Amazon et.al could come out of this quite nicely.

Don’t get me wrong, I have two books on Amazon Kindle and it’s a very convenient site for writers. And ironically, I’ve had an e-mail this evening explaining the new charges anyone in Europe will have to pay for my books. But I am very aware small publishers will really struggle with this new system – the same as I would as a music publisher – which I was and would be but for HBOS.

End result? Whereas the internet gave millions of people and SMEs the opportunity to promote and sell their individual downloads all over the world – MOSS VAT + HMRC will now take that ability away. We will end up with half a dozen global platforms to sell digital or physical products across the Europe – and no doubt the world will follow. Sure they will have lots of subsidiaries but ultimately there will be a few Corporates running sales across the internet or to Europe.

The obvious solution was (and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work this out) – those digital traders or physical traders in the UK who sell in excess of the UK VAT exemption figure, should charge and, if applicable, pay VAT to the EU in the same way they do in the UK but at a flat rate agreed by the EU community to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

I would say to Mr Ansip, Mr Osborne and Mr Darling (who must have agreed this in the first place) that while MOSS VAT may bring in some cash from the big players avoiding tax, it will do them little harm and they’ll simply put prices up. But your new rules will be a disaster for SMEs, for the economy and for the morale of the Country.

For example, I know a young photographer who sells her images digitally and who has already considered the sad fact she will have to put a sign on her site saying – “Apologies, no sales to EU Countries.”

One might almost think our Government’s (present and past) are quite keen to see SMEs throw in the towel. First the banks and now this. What next?

And one last thought, why does Andrus Ansip say “As I understand it….” Surely this is an EU directive drafted in Brussels or Strasbourg wasn’t it? So he should know. Unless it was drafted elsewhere.

p.s If any accountant reading this can clarify what MOSS VAT really means to SMEs, please do post a reply or e-mail smealliance2014@gmail.com . I sincerely hope I have got this all wrong.