Centre for Brexit Studies statement completely debunks government’s position on customs union

A statement released by the Centre for Brexit Studies has today completely ridiculed Theresa May’s position on the customs union.

The Prime Minister has ruled out a customs union with the EU in what has been described as a significant departure from previous policy.

Whilst previous policy effectively ruled out membership of the European Union Customs Union (EUCU), it did not rule out membership of a customs union with the EU.

Indeed, during Theresa May’s speech of 17th January 2017 when she set out Britain’s negotiating positions (the so-called “12 points”), it was stated that “I do want us to have a customs agreement with the EU”.

A bilateral customs agreement, such as the EU-Turkey “customs union”, for example, though, does not cover agriculture or services, nor does it affect procurement. It does, however, levy a common external tariff on goods (with provisions allowing for derogations in certain circumstances).

However, Theresa May’s latest statement has also appeared to rule out an arrangement like this.

In response to the move, Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of Birmingham City University’s Centre for Brexit Studies, said: “This implies that even if the UK were to completely align its regulatory standards with the EU, the EU would still have to impose customs checks upon goods entering via the UK. This is not a negotiating position: it is physically impossible for the EU to avoid customs checks if the UK has an FTA with a country that the EU does not.

“More importantly, at first blush it appears that Downing Street’s latest statement is in direct contradiction to what was agreed in December during stage one of the negotiations between the UK and EU. In particular, the UK stated that the UK “respects Ireland’s […] place in the Internal Market and Customs Union” and that it “remains committed to […] its guarantee of avoiding a hard border”. It is unclear how Ireland can avoid imposing a customs barrier if the UK enters into an FTA with a third party.

“Moreover, the UK explicitly stated that, “In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.” This appears incompatible with the aim of leaving the EUCU and avoiding any kind of customs union with the EU.

“Thus, the PM’s latest statement still appears to leave the UK Government in the situation of wanting to “have its cake and eat it too”.”

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