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For national preference

By April 20, 2014February 18th, 2021No Comments

British Customs

by Dick Franklin

I think it was one of my ancestors, Benjamin Franklin, who said something to the effect that, the only things you can be sure of in life are death and taxes. Yes and I know no one likes paying taxes. Unfortunately if you want an ordered system of government and all that goes with it, revenue is needed in the form of taxes.

Customs duty is probably the oldest form of tax. When the Roman army invaded Britain, they were followed by the tax collectors who were in effect Customs officers. In the fourteenth century Geoffrey Chaucer was the Collector, ie regional manager, of Customs for London. Customs duty is simply a tax levied on imported goods – not services. It is either on an “ad valorem” basis, that is it is charged as a percentage of the value of the goods, which also includes the cost of freight and insurance, or as a specific rate which is is based on some physical property of the goods. The duties on hydrocarbon oil (petrol etc), tobacco and alcohol are all specific. I believe on tobacco there is a combination of both, but let us not get too technical.

I said at the outset that customs duty is a means of raising revenue. It is relatively easy and cheap to collect because the authorities only have to deal with a limited number of importers. This is unlike Income Tax where there are millions of tax payers. I should also mention that since the advent of the World Customs Union, rates of customs duty have fallen significantly throughout the world.

Customs duty has uses other than the collection of state revenue. For example, there are “countervailing” duties which are levied in response to another country increasing its duty on our exports. There is “anti-dumping” duty, which is brought in when it is felt that a particular country is off loading large amounts of goods by importing them to the UK at below cost, so as to undermine our own manufacturing industry. China is a good example of this behaviour.

There were protective duties, designed to protect our own industries from cheap third world competition. There were also preferential duties intended to promote trade between favoured nations. For example, when I joined HM Customs & Excise in the 1960`s, we had “Commonwealth Preference”, where what used to be called “the White Dominions” received much lower rates of customs duty from the UK and they returned the compliment.

Then we joined something called the European Economic Community in 1973. This was followed by the Single European Act during the Thatcher regime along with other legislation. This underpinned much of what is now called the European Union. I can remember shortly before I retired that the EEC and the EU were clearly differentiated. Then one day we received the instruction to drop the term EEC and only refer to the European Union in all documents and discussions.

British Customs duty disappeared to be replaced overnight with the Common Customs Tariff. This meant that into whichever country in the EU goods were first imported, the same rate of duty would apply. There is a single customs barrier around the EU. Once in the EU, these goods could not be subject to any further customs duty. So no Commonwealth Preference, no protective duties, nor any of the other measures which have protected British trade for so many years.

We can still have measures like anti-dumping duty but the whole of the EU must agree and this can take so long, the damage is done. So if some third world country decides to dump the produce of its exploited workers on the UK, there is precious little we can do about it. 75% of customs duty is remitted to Brussels. The EU countires are allowed to keep the remaining 25% to cover the cost of collection.

We have just seen two of our last three deep coal mines close and 1300 out of work. This is because they cannot compete with coal produced produced by miners paid in shirt buttons in other parts of the world – I am not allowed to say peanuts! Hence another strategic commodity is lost to us and our security as a nation is again reduced.

This is just one more reason we must get out of this demonic EU as fast as we can and take back the reins of safeguarding Britain – First, Last and Always.