Saturday, 12 March 2011

[Rewriting history] If the first excuse isn't good enough...


Three days ago, the Lib-Cons shelved their eminently sensible policy to replace Air Passenger Duty with a per-plane duty on the grounds that this contravened EU law, as confirmed by e.g. Channel 4's usually reliable fact check. EU rules are usually self-defeatingly stupid, so I was prepared to take this at face value.

However, the Trade Minister in my Bloggers Cabinet, John B, commented thusly:

Hmm. I think... the reason you haven't found an EU law against this is because *there isn't one*, like most of the things governments blame on the EU. Rather, because someone wants to backtrack on the pledge (at a guess, because it'd bust BA and Virgin whilst favouring Mr O'Leary), they're lying that it's an EU rule so that they can renege on the deal and have the blame go elsewhere.

This is primarily what the EU is for - so that governments can do whatever they like, and then pretend to the public that it's someone else's fault if said things are unpopular.

The last paragraph of that is indisputably true, but it turns out he was spot on with the first part as well. From today's FT:

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have long advocated the policy of switching from a “per passenger” duty to a “per plane” levy as a green measure to end the current situation whereby empty flights are not taxed...

However, ministers have backed away from the plan after Whitehall officials and lawyers advised it would breach the 1944 Chicago Convention, which established the legal framework for international civil aviation and outlaws fuel taxes on international flights.

It was argued that if the levy was based on maximum take-off weight, it could have been a proxy for an aircraft’s fuel burn – and therefore open to legal challenge as a “fuel tax”.

No doubt others will have spotted this history re-write as well, so the next excuse will probably be that the Chicago Convention is enshrined in EU law or something.
In any event, the relevant article in the Convention, Article 24 Customs Duty says:

(a) Aircraft on a flight to, from, or across the territory of another contracting State shall be admitted temporarily free of duty, subject to the customs regulations of the State.

Fuel, lubricating oils, spare parts, regular equipment and aircraft stores on board an aircraft of a contracting State, on arrival in the territory of another contracting State and retained on board on leaving the territory of that State shall be exempt from customs duty, inspection fees or similar national or local duties and charges.

This exemption shall not apply to any quantities or articles unloaded, except in accordance with the customs regulations of the State, which may require that they shall be kept under customs supervision.

I've bolded the clue bat to save you a valuable few seconds. Seeing as the per-plane duty would apply whether or not the plane is refuelled on UK soil or merely lands and takes off again, how anybody in his right mind can construe that as preventing a per-plane duty while allowing a per-passenger duty is a mystery to me.


Anonymous said...

Of course all these arguments would become irrelevant if there simply was no membership in the EU to begin with and the country was run according to its sovereign self the way it was designed to be prior to its submission to a foreign government taking over.

Bayard said...

.....and the next excuse is?

john b said...

Anonymous: no they wouldn't. That's the whole bloody point: now that it's clear the EU can't be blamed, the government's trying to blame the Chicago Convention instead.

If we left the EU, then governments would still try and blame unpopular decisions on international organisations, local governments, and any other damn thing which takes the flak off themselves.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Anon, see what John B says.

B, sure, once excuse 3 runs out of steam they'll say to all the awkward squad (like me) "Oh, but you're not an expert in international aviation law, you don't understand it properly" despite, like most treaties, the language is perfectly clear.

James Higham said...

Yes but it's not a mystery to the great public out there who will just swallow this along with all the rest and carry on regardless.