Alongside the looming rebellion over disability benefits, there’s another battle under way in the Budget debate – this time over the EU’s tax on tampons.
Following anger over the issue last Autumn, an alliance of Eurosceptic and feminist MPs, led by Anne-Marie Trevelyan, have tabled an amendment proposing that the Government remove VAT from women’s sanitary products.
The Government has tried to head off a rebellion by seeking at the European Council for a VAT exemption to be granted. They’re evidently hoping that they can turn the attack back on Eurosceptics by demonstrating their much-heralded ‘influence at the top table’ by doing so.
Unfortunately, the EU never works that quickly – and the very fact ministers must go cap in hand to the EU to beg permission rather highlights the problem with giving up powers to Brussels. As a result, their success is rather limited – apparently that there is general agreement that the EU Commission should bring forward proposals to change the policy, though there is no sign of when that might happen or how long it might take to implement. If it takes all this effort just to get one relatively small change agreed in principle, then what hope is there of the EU ever changing its ways on larger policy issues?
The amendment, therefore, is still tabled. Apparently some Government sources now suggest that Conservative MPs are being rather disloyal in urging their colleagues to vote against the Budget. The would-be rebels counter that they are doing no such thing, and are simply seeking to amend the Chancellor’s proposals.
I expect the next response from Downing Street will be that what the amendment proposes would be illegal under EU law – in effect, Parliament demanding that the Government breach our international agreements. The problem is that the rebel amendment simply seeks to support what the Government itself says it wants to be able to do.
No doubt there’ll be more back and forth on the topic before the amendment comes up on Tuesday.