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May 22, 2011


Fordingbridge, England – In a week when…..

The UK Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) attempted to combine the European Commission (EC) proposals on Framework Regulation for motorcycles i.e. all that stuff on  anti-tampering, modification measures, emissions and noise checks, with the French Presidents attempts to control runaway motorcycle road crash fatalities. OMG the compulsory wearing of day-glo and reflective clothing, it is perhaps timely to look at some EC anomalies that have made it over to Blighty.

Yes folks its value added tax (VAT) time. VAT was first introduced in Europe in 1954 by the French and has subsequently become one of the “ glories” of the European Union (EU). EU VAT Directives we have a plenty all attempting to take us closer to the EU’s tax nirvana, a VAT system that has the same rates across the whole of Europe.

In true Euro democracy style the VAT Directives allow member states to apply for derogations or exemptions for certain items or services that would otherwise be subject to VAT. It’s unfortunate that the British don’t to exemptions at all well. Sticking our noses into other people’s affairs, invading or bombing places while acting as a front for “other” countries interests, making hypocrisy a gold medal wining event fine, EU VAT exemptions no.

Hence there are VAT anomalies in the UK which are idiosyncratic to say the least. Instance! Motorcycle helmets are  zero rated i.e. VAT free. Out of the box with visor and even ear protectors and a communication system fitted no VAT. However, if you want to buy a new or replacement visor, a tinted visor, ear protectors or a communications system as separate items VAT applies. Like wise if I buy motorcycle clothing, personal protective equipment, VAT applies. Except of course if I use said clothing as a “professional” when it’s quite possible that I or my employer could claim back the VAT.

Considering the fuss about wearing the “right gear” we get from the road safety pundits and the police it might just be a good idea if the UK Government had assisted us by managing through an EU VAT exemption.

On the same theme but different. Is it fair that UK Air Ambulance charities, sometimes called Life Flights and amongst the best supported  charities by UK bikers, have to pay VAT on their fuel. Taking into account that the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) has an exemption, in fact all lifeboat services in the EU don’t pay VAT on fuel that exemptions actually in the Directive, the answer is obviously no. Fuel used by Air Ambulances should be VAT free.

As I said the British don’t do VAT exemptions. Asked only a few days ago by Jason McCartney, Member of Parliament for Colne Valley, why VAT had to paid on Air Ambulance fuel Prime Minister David Cameron responded: “the EU VAT directive does make an exemption for lifeboats, but there is no equivalent provision for supplies used by other charities and we are not able to change that”.

Dave that’s not strictly true is it. You could simple exempt Air Ambulance fuel and come to mention it motorcycle clothing and pay the EU fines, like the Spanish will have to on a medical instruments VAT exemption they have which is against EU “rules”. Then of course you must be aware that the European Commission are currently inviting responses to a Green paper on the Future of the EU VAT System as a precursor, in 2012-13, to reviewing the current VAT Directive. They are interested in things like exemptions as they would like to cut down on them, so it might be good idea to get involved now.

Thinking about it might be a good idea if UK MAG got involved too. How about a pan European campaign to exempt all motorcycle clothing from VAT. Starting now! That’s the thing about European politics its important get in early on an issue, build a network, set out your stall, construct a cohort, seek out the essential self-interested camp followers.

Yes a VAT Campaign would certainly be more productive than pandering to the euro haters in the UK motorcycling community. It might even send a polite message to the Federation of European Motorcycle Associations (FEMA) and the Fédération Française des Motards en Colère (FFMC) that France, even with the current proposals and implementations on road safety, is not the centre of the known universe on motorcycling issues.

Ride with pride!

© Back Roads Rider 2011

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ian Cook permalink
    May 22, 2011 9:02 am

    Lobbying for VAT exemption could be seen as the “thin end of the wedge” for accepting compulsion. Leave it!

  2. J.C. permalink
    May 22, 2011 12:37 pm

    Personally I think we’re going around it the wrong way.

    Look at Mr Harold Camping – he scared the crap out of his followers stating that the world would end (21st May at 6 pm – BST I think). It didn’t happen – or all the freaks are now in their version of heaven (estimated at 2% of the world’s population). You may think that this fruitcake needs sectioning, personally I think that he ranks up there with Bernie Madoff and a couple of other crooks I could name in Brussels. He’s worth a few hundred million dollars.

    Scaring people is big money – whether it relates to the environment, road safety or the end of the world.

    Consider that voluntary organisations are always troubled by getting funding and it’s always a small handful that do the work in the name of all the followers/members – or in the case of FEMA that purports to represent all riders in Europe.

    The best way would be to do what Camping did – point to the nasty outside world and promise salvation for the inner circle, even better if there is a hate figure. Look at Bangermann – and how effective FEMA was at pointing the finger at him as the Boogy man. Or in the UK, Peter Bottomley when he suggested leg protectors.

    The reverse is when you look for a saviour and back the wrong horse (or MEP) e.g. Wim van de Camp who has shafted FEMA royally.

    In the case of MAG and the BMF, the message is lost because of the lack of coordination, too many competing issues etc or simply not publicizing what they are doing – whatever that is.

    What are we fighting for? Isn’t it the right to ride our bikes as we see fit? For most of us that will still be the case, because we’re all old enough not to have to worry about what happens in 20 years time. From what I can see, most young people couldn’t care less, life is too interesting to worry about the future and a bunch of old farts telling them what to do – and of course, they have no sense of their own mortality.

    Having a goal – e.g. the end of the world, or even parking in London, works. But in the end, it’s all about money (and power) and the ability to convince enough people to fund whatever cause.

    Mr Camping made a mint by scaring the hell out of people; the No to Bike Parking were able to get substantial funding for their court case. In both instances, their ability to use the media was paramount. Interesting though the outcomes were the same: nothing happened. The world is still here and Westminster can charge for bike parking.

    FEMA in the 90s was successful because its Gen.Sec was dynamic and knew how to play the media as well as focussing on a single issue – gathering 20,000 riders in Brussels – scared the hell out of the bureaucrats and politicians.

    Infact FEMA’s greatest claim to fame was defeating the Multi-Directive – Since then it’s all been down hill. FEMA’s national organisations are stuggling to get members, with the exception of the Scandinavians, but that is more a reflection on their business acumen – they offer training, touring, insurance and perhaps their tendency to do things in hordes.

    So where does that leave us Brits? Standing on a hill at Hastings with placards? Waiting for the Normans (or in this case the EU) to fight them head on….

    while they come through the Channel Tunnel and shaft us from behind.

  3. Dave permalink
    May 24, 2011 9:15 am

    Helmets are VAT free because they’re protective equipment which has gone through rigorous safety testing to achieve the EU standard. If you want clothing to have the same status it will have to go through the same testing making it more expensive… And of course once you’ve gone through the whole process of having every piece of motorcyce apparell CE approved then there’s no reason not to make it compulsory…


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