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Analysis

Customs union can-kicking may rob people of meaningful say

by Luke Lythgoe | 05.02.2018

When is a customs union not a customs union? When it’s a customs arrangement. Saying categorically “no” to a customs union with the EU but embracing a customs arrangement seems to be Theresa May’s latest ploy to kick the can down the road and avoid hard choices. The prime minister’s persistent vagueness is a danger to the economy, Brexit talks and Irish border. If she still isn’t clear by next year, it will be an affront to democracy.

Last night a government source told journalists: “It is not our policy to stay in the customs union. It is not our policy to stay in a customs union.” Number 10 confirmed this today, pointing to a paper released in August with two alternative options: either a “highly-streamlined customs arrangement” or a “new customs partnership” with the EU. At the time, InFacts called the paper “magical thinking”. Even David Davis referred to “blue-sky ideas” when describing the technology-driven solutions for a frictionless customs border.

May is using vagueness to save her skin – following reports at the weekend that she would face a coup if she agreed to keep the UK in the customs union. A compromise involving a time-limited extension of some features of the customs union post Brexit will be put to this week’s “war cabinet” meetings, according to The Times.

It’s not yet clear which features would be extended or for how long. But there’s a chance that hard Brexiters can celebrate that we’ll eventually leave the customs union while soft Brexiters will be happy that nothing will change for years to come.

May’s vagueness is dangerous for three main reasons. First, uncertainty around future trading relationships is bad for jobs.

Second, UK negotiators can’t hope to make a success of Brexit talks without an agreed end goal. European leaders are already exasperated with May’s prevarication. Her failure to set the agenda means we are likely to end up with an even worse deal.

Finally, if May manages to kick the can beyond next year, the people will be robbed of a meaningful say on her Brexit deal. People didn’t vote to be poorer, to lose their jobs, or consign Britain to the economic slow lane. Voters need to know how hard Brexit will be before it happens – and, if they’re not happy, they should be free to pull the plug on the whole project.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

Tags: , , Categories: Economy

One Response to “Customs union can-kicking may rob people of meaningful say”

  • Whatever custom union comes out of the present so-called negotiations it can never satisfy the requirements for the Irish problem. This has always been obvious from the beginning as I wrote a long time ago after watching the experts being questioned on the parliamentary committee dealing with Irish affairs. These experts agreed that there was no solution to that problem. Why have the hard brexiteers not been asked time and time again to come up with a solution to that problem until they are forced to give a realistic answer? They seem to think that if we have a hard brexit the problem will go away. In fact the problem will be worse and the brexiteers must be make to take responsibility for either the secession of Northern Island which is very unlikely with the present state of the government with DUP holding the whip-hand or a return to the troubles and the cancelling of the good Friday agreement. That would probably be followed by Scotland and possibly later on by Wales. Is the possible break up of the UK what the brexiteers want ? They should be made to answer these questions but no-one in the media seem prepared to ask those questions.