The Tampon tax: Another reason to be annoyed with the EU?

Mo Metcalf-Fisher
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It is worrying that the amendment on the tampon tax would have achieved nothing (Source: Getty)

First thing’s first, the 5 per cent VAT levy on sanitary products (or "the tampon tax") is wrong. They are an essential item that should under no circumstance be subject to VAT and they are a far cry from a "luxury item". This is a view held by a wide range of MPs from across the political spectrum. It is also a view the Conservative government rightly sympathises with.

However, there is a large amount of misinformation out there that needs to be addressed in relation to Monday’s vote.

Perhaps most worrying is the fact that this amendment would have achieved absolutely nothing.

Sure, it gave way to a much needed debate and highlighted an extremely important issue. However, even if MPs would have voted it through on Monday, it would not of resulted in anything meaningful; the tax would not be dropped and it would actually of been unlawful.

Read more: MPs reject a tampon tax bill

Why? Well, that’s because our own Treasury has no power to levy a zero rate on tampons and other sanitary products. It’s set by the European Union and can only be changed by them. That means that regardless of what the British people believe and what our own parliament declare, rule changes would still require all 28 member states of Europe to agree.

Ridiculous? Yes it is. It’s another fine example of tedious bureaucracy that makes being a member of the EU so frustrating. It also highlights the awful situation the UK is in with relation to restrictions to our own parliamentary system. That’s why some eurosceptic Tory MPs joined up with the opposition, in a bid to expose the dilemma.

With this in mind, Monday’s vote wasn’t so much a vote on removing the tax levy on sanitary products, but an indictment of the tedious effects of tax harmonisation within the EU and the fact our parliament is unable to make serious decisions without the approval of Brussels.

Many Labour and other pro EU MPs outlined their annoyance at the fact this amendment failed to pass last night, blaming Conservative MPs rather than the EU, for this nightmare setup. Coincidence? I think not.

Read more: "Independence" promoted by the Eurosceptics is an illusion

If these MPs genuinely cared about championing the issue, they would directly criticise Britain’s relationship with the EU and support David Cameron’s attempt to renegotiate the terms of our membership.

Alternatively, they would accept that the tampon tax issue is just another sad example of the effects of EU interference and push for Britain to leave to leave the EU. If the UK were to withdraw its membership of the EU, it would be capable of giving sanitary products a zero rate.

The fact that some supporters of this amendment would rather blame the Tories in an attempt to smear them, is misguided, childish and wrong. It also raises questions about the sincerity of their own position in relation to this terrible setup.

David Gauke, the Finance Secretary to the Treasury, has already agreed to take this issue to the European Commission and to other member states so as to make it clear that individual countries should be able to apply a zero-rate to sanitary products.

However, if, like me, you want to see an end to the tampon tax and for Britain to have its own say in what policies are decided by our parliament, you will have the opportunity to cast your vote in the upcoming referendum on Britain’s membership to the EU.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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