Bye, bye tax-free shopping

Frequent fliers with a thing for loads of tax-free luxury goodies, are well advised to skip Britain on their next foreign jaunt

Bye, bye tax-free shopping

Hasan Suroor

Frequent fliers with a thing for loads of tax-free luxury goodies, are well advised to skip Britain on their next foreign jaunt. Because under a new tax regime to come into force from the New Year day, foreign visitors from outside Europe will have to cough up full VAT on anything they buy in Britain, including at airports, unless they have the stuff delivered directly to their overseas address. In which case, of course, the cost of shipping goods could far exceed the tax making it cheaper to pay it and be done with it.

The move, which makes Britain the only country in Europe not to offer tax-free shopping, has horrified businesses, prompting warnings that it would deter tourists from coming and cost the economy millions of pounds in lost revenue it earns from tourism and retail sales.

Bosses of some of Britain’s biggest stores such as Marks & Spencer and Selfridges and aviation companies have protested, pointing out that Britain could lose up to £60 million pounds a day because of the likely impact of the move. The decision would also make Britain less competitive vis-a-vis other European countries. At the moment, it’s the favourite shopping destination of big spenders from Asia, especially India and China.

“Madrid, Milan and Paris are rubbing their hands with glee at this self-inflicted wound," said Paul Barnes, head of the Association of International Retail. "If we charge a fifth more for the same goods, international visitors will not hesitate to switch their city breaks to other countries.

The government says the current tax regime is costly and vulnerable to fraud. A claim nobody is buying, of course.

Restrictions don’t work

Restrictions on international travel to contain Covid infection are useless and have no real effect on the ground, according to a study by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

It found that measures like compulsory periods of quarantine and complete closure of borders were largely ineffective in countries where the virus was already prevalent. And need “not be applied uniformly”.

“We recognise that these measures carry a high economic and social cost, so it’s important that governments use travel restrictions in a targeted way,” said Mark Jit, professor of vaccine epidemiology, who led the study.

The findings, published in The Lancet Public Health, come amid widespread criticism of Britain’s approach, particularly mandatory two-week quarantine for people arriving from “high-risk” countries. It will bolster the case of airlines and travel industry leaders who have been arguing against untested precautionary restrictions which, they say, have badly hit international travel besides causing unnecessary inconvenience to people.

Will politicians, who claim. they are being “led” by science in dealing with the pandemic put their money where their mouth is and take the findings seriously?

Pandemic humour

The pandemic may have sucked all the joy out of people’s lives but, thankfully, it has not been able to kill their sense of humour, and instead spawned a minor industry of gags.

Ever wondered why are Santa’s reindeers allowed to travel on Christmas Eve despite the lockdown? Answer: Because they have “herd immunity”.

Another cocks a snook at the government’s muddled three-tier restrictions policy to contain infection with someone asking why is Boris Johnson’s Christmas cake this year not likely to be ready until the last minute? Well, because he doesn’t know how many “tiers” it should have.

And guess which Christmas film was 30 years ahead of its time?Home Alone”, of course.

“Respect” Vs “tolerance”

As academic hair splitting goes, this one is up there in the Oxbridge league: Should one be expected to “respect” another person’s viewpoint no matter how much they dislike it? Or mere “tolerance” would do?

Cambridge University has just been through a blazing row with its faculty members over its new guidelines on free speech, prompted by concerns over the "cancel culture" sweeping British campuses whereby anyone with challenging views risks being hounded by a generation of “woke” students and teachers.

The original guidelines proposed by the university would have required staff, students and visiting speakers to remain "respectful" of the views and "identities" of others.  But they ran into trouble with free speech warriors who claimed they would block controversial ideas and debates. And a noisy campaign was launched to replace “respect” with “tolerance” triggering a vote on the issue in the university's governing body, the Regent House.

Last week, critics won the vote in support of the amendment. So, the new guidelines will expect "staff, students and visitors to be tolerant of the differing opinions of others". They also underline the need to hear from outside speakers, even if controversial, as long as they remain within the law.

And, lastly, apparently some pubs are secretly allowing customers to bring takeaways from outside, and then physically “serving” them from their own kitchen to get round the lockdown ban on serving drinks sans food!

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