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Analysis

PM’s customs deal is a real Turkey

by Nick Kent | 21.11.2018

Theresa May’s notorious “backstop” would give 88 countries that have EU trade deals access to our market without us having access to theirs. This is a hopelessly one-sided arrangement that will put UK businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

This unfair arrangement is modelled on the one Turkey has with the EU. It only made sense for a country that thought it was on its way to becoming a member of the bloc (but is no way near joining). It is a terrible deal for a country that is leaving.

If the UK and the EU have not agreed a new relationship by the end of the transition period which kicks in after Brexit, we will remain in the bloc’s customs union. This means that the UK will have to admit goods from third countries on the same terms as the EU whenever it has a free trade agreement with that country.

The government will say that this will not happen if it can negotiate bilateral trade agreements with the 88 countries – including Japan and Canada – with which the EU has a trade agreement. But as none has yet been agreed, it is hard to imagine that will be achieved by the end of 2020 when the transition is supposed to end.

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But it gets worse. This same one-sided arrangement would apply to any new countries that the EU negotiates deals with. It is already in talks with Australia and New Zealand. In future years, it might start talks with America and China. Why would these countries want to negotiate with us when they could agree a deal with the much larger EU and then get their goods into the UK anyway by the back door?

As if that is not depressing enough, the government has agreed that the customs union backstop will form the basis of the agreement on the future trade deal it wants with the EU. So this one-sided arrangement could continue permanently.

At a moment in British politics when we are debating existential questions about the future of our country, the details of how the UK would trade under a customs union (which most people hope will never come into force) may seem an abstract technical point. It is nothing of the kind.  

This is yet another example of why May’s Brexit deal is bad for Britain. Parliament should not throw away all our hard-won benefits from EU membership without asking the people whether they really want that to happen.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

Tags: , , Categories: Brexit

4 Responses to “PM’s customs deal is a real Turkey”

  • I thought having a customs union with the EU was a good thing ? This sort of Domesday-mongering is just the sort of thing that brexiteers are indulging in. I’m really beginning to wonder if Infacts has lost the plot. A backstop is just that, and will almost certainly never be used, so it really doesn’t matter too much what it says in the small print. Plus, whatever trading arrangement we make with the EU post-brexit will not be binding, so can be renegotiated at a later date.

  • Renegotiating? Only if the EU considers the UK worth it. And that might be a rather tricky problem given the experience of dire incompetence in the past two years.

  • Is there some source I can use to prove the backstop would results in a 1-way customs union, whereby we don’t have access to countries that have agreements with the EU customs union, but they have access to the UK market?
    It seems incredible and should be shouted from the rooftops if true.

  • I have laboriously followed the two-year debates and reckoned that I have just about understood the issues, not without a struggle. Now I find that my brain has hit the buffers ( or possibly, the backstop, I suppose): I think I understand why the customs union would continue to mean that 88 countries would be able to market to UK freely under EU terms and tariffs, BUT WHY would UK not retain the reciprocal rights in trading to the 88? (Brain-crumbling accelerating) Can it be because, in exiting the EU we exit the Single Market? Presumably the existing trading agreements are between the 88 individual countries and the countries that are members of the Single Market, which the PM is blithely committing us to leaving, while simultaneously shackling us to the above consequences of the Customs Union?
    Is this really the situation? Can they be serious? Has my brain finally melted? Someone tell me why I am wrong.