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Analysis

Customs union row underlines case for People’s Vote

by Luke Lythgoe | 27.04.2018

It became clearer than ever yesterday that Theresa May’s Brexit deal will please no one. The battleground: customs union. Three frontlines emerged.

First, a widely trailed onslaught from MPs. The motion for “the establishment of an effective customs union” between the UK and EU after Brexit was passed without a vote. It was a non-binding result. But Theresa May will be acutely aware that 10 Tory rebels put their name to the motion and a further three spoke out in support – likely enough to defeat the government once the prime minister faces the music and allows MPs to have a binding vote.

Several well-reasoned arguments were made on how barmy leaving the customs union would be. Tory MP Anna Soubry shot down the idea that by leaving the customs union we could become “global Britain”. “We’re already global Britain” she argued, reflecting on trade missions by David Cameron and George Osborne to the Middle East and China.

Sylvia Hermon, the independent MP for North Down, warned of a “return of violence in Northern Ireland” as leaving the customs union would inevitably lead to a hard border. Former Tory minister Nicky Morgan warned her party: “If we undermine and ignore the evidence for peace in Northern Ireland and the financial security of people in this country, we will not be forgiven for a generation.”

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Elsewhere, the home secretary spent the day sowing confusion and undermining the government’s insistence we will leave the customs union. Amber Rudd told journalists she was “not going to be drawn” on the issue and that there were still “”ongoing Cabinet discussions”. She later clarified her comment with a tweet saying “of course when we leave the EU we will be leaving the customs union”. That’s cleared that up then.

Finally, the hard-Brexit wing of May’s Cabinet, led by Boris Johnson, is trying to shoot down the prime minister’s preferred fudge on the issue – a “customs partnership” under which the UK would collect tax on goods going to the EU. One Brexiter called May’s magical thinking the “unicorn model”. They are right, as explained by InFacts’ Hugo Dixon in a column for the Times.

Yes, leaving the customs union is madness. But staying inside while Brexiting is hardly ideal either. It means we’ll be a rule-taker following EU decisions without a vote – not taking back control. It also won’t include our trade in services with the EU. Whatever customs arrangement emerges from May’s sausage factory is going to be miserable. All the more reason for the people to be given a vote on the Brexit deal to see if they think it’s good enough.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

5 Responses to “Customs union row underlines case for People’s Vote”

  • As a former remain voter I am sick to death of hearing every which way we can remain in the eu. The vote was clear to leave, as shown recently on tv Cameron and Osborne repeated so many times that leaving the eu meant leaving the SM and CU. If anyone claims they did not know that they are either lying or simple ignorant of any facts. I and many other will no longer tolerate this flagrant ignorance of a clear democratic referendum result.

  • Ever heard of ‘The Tyranny of the Majority’ Phil? The American Founding Fathers warned us against it, & John Stuart Mill wrote eloquently about this danger in his celebrated book, On Liberty. You need lessons on what democracy means. Now go off and read your Daily Heil which is where you belong.

  • Phil, Whatever any politician said or didn’t say on whether leaving the EU , also meant the Single Market and Customs Union, it all comes under the heading of political spin. What counts is what was actually stated on the ballot paper, and there was no mention of either. So an arrangement similar to Norway’s or Switzerland’s would still be consistent with the Referendum vote. It would certainly be news to the peoples of those countries to hear they were members of the EU.

  • Of course leaving the EU means leaving the SM and CU. Membership of both – and much more – comes with membership of the EU.

    That does NOT mean we can’t negotiate a customs union agreement similar to Turkey’s, or negotiate to join the SM as a third nation the way Norway has. Or we could join (i.e. stay in) the EEA which also carries SM membership.

    What tends to be overlooked is that when Cameron spoke of leaving the SM and CU if we left the EU he was issuing a warning, not making a promise. He also warned us that leaving the EU could endanger peace in Europe, that isn’t a reason to start a war.