BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron won backing at a European Union summit on Thursday to end the so-called “tampon tax” that has become a political football for Britons campaigning to leave the EU in a June referendum.
“We’re a step closer to ending the tampon tax,” a British government spokeswoman told reporters after EU leaders agreed to express support in the summit statement for an adjustment to UK value-add tax (VAT) on women’s sanitary products.
“It shows we can come to Brussels and get people to listen,” she added during a meeting dominated by Europe’s migrant crisis.
Eurosceptics accusing Brussels of sexism have seized on complaints that tampons and other female hygiene products carry a sales tax of 5 percent in Britain while other goods such as razors, mainly used by men, are exempt from VAT.
Cameron’s government has said it wants to end VAT on tampons but that its hands are tied by EU rules. The VAT waiver, known as zero-rating, applied in Britain to many essential items including food and medicine, is a legacy pre-dating an EU minimum VAT rate of 5 percent.
Tampons were not classed as essentials when Britain joined the bloc in the 1970s and current EU rules forbid states from adding new items to an approved list of VAT-exempt articles.
However, the executive European Commission is presenting proposals next week to return some flexibility on VAT to member states. EU officials said Cameron persuaded his peers to give special mention to tampons because all of them are anxious that he win the referendum to keep Britain in the bloc.
Formal summit conclusions stated that the “European Council ... welcomes the intention of the Commission to include proposals for increased flexibility for member states with respect to reduced rates of VAT, which would provide the option to all member states of VAT zero rating for sanitary products”.
Editing by Paul Taylor