Heathrow’s Fraser Brown: UK tax free policy ‘an act of economic vandalism’

By Kristiane Sherry |

The UK government has committed ‘economic vandalism’ in removing almost all tax free shopping, Heathrow’s Fraser Brown has said.

The UK government’s decision to cull tax free shopping is “an act of economic vandalism” and is a “very, very dangerous thing to have done”, Heathrow Airport’s Retail Director Fraser Brown has said.

Speaking at the TR Consumer Forum today [23 June], Brown was scathing of the government policy, which effectively cut virtually all tax free shopping in the UK from January 2021.

“It’s completely mad,” he continued. “We are incredibly angry about it, and will continue to fight hard […] for a change in government policy.”

Stakeholders across travel retail and duty free have criticised the move, arguing that removing tax free shopping puts the UK at a competitive disadvantage compared to Europe.

The UK is the only European country that does not allow tax free shopping to tourists, the exception being if goods are shipped immediately overseas.

While the government claims scrapping tax free shopping has saved £2 billion annually, travel retail stakeholders argue a new tax free shopping incentive would attract millions of visitors, generate billions in spend, and bring in investment.

“Having a punch-up with your own government is not a good thing to do as a big business, but it’s such a critical topic for us, for our colleagues and partners, and for the UK economy,” Brown continued.

He outlined that rolling back tax free shopping was especially dangerous because the move could set a precedent for other governments to follow.

When asked by TRBusiness if there was any sign of a u-turn from the government, Brown was not confident.

“In conversations I have had with officials, at least they are now prepared to listen. What I’m frustrated about and don’t have confidence about yet is if they have a genuine desire to consult with the industry.”

He continued: “I would describe it as they had their ears shut. They’ve at least now got their ears open. But we don’t have a clear pathway through to how they’re going to properly consider the issue.”

The industry is also stepping up pressure on the UK government for the introduction of arrivals duty free.

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