Figures from Molly Scott Cato to Patrick Minford offer their viewsby Joseph Evans / August 25, 2017 / Leave a comment
Parliament is still in recess, but the recent flurry of papers from David Davis’s department has kept the Brexit debate front and centre this summer. Heated arguments have raged over all aspects of our future relationship with the European Union: European Court of Justice jurisdiction, the infamous Brexit “divorce bill”—and the customs union, which the government has committed to leaving. This latter subject has hefty implications for our future trade with Europe.
The customs union is an agreement between EU member states not to impose tariffs on imports from one another, while imposing a common tariff on all imports from outside the trading bloc. The arrangement is designed to boost European bargaining power, but is highly controversial. The sticking point for some Brexiteers is that members of the customs union cannot negotiate their own trade deals with countries outside the EU, as they are tied to these tariff arrangements. British membership has therefore been the subject of intense scrutiny over recent months.
Last week David Davis said that a temporary UK-EU customs union, mirroring the current arrangements, could work post-Brexit. Is he onto something, or should Brexit Britain still look to leave straight away? Alternatively, perhaps continued membership is the only way forward. I spoke to experts and politicians to canvas opinion.
Sam Bowman, executive director of free market think tank the Adam Smith Institute, told me that unpicking the relationship between Britain and the customs union would be “very complex,” but that “nobody has a strong interest in changing the current tariff relationship between the UK and EU.”
The thinking seems to be that we could leave while retaining some of the benefits. But other challenges would be sure to come up—with any interim deal potentially just delaying the inevitable. “What is difficult about the customs union are ‘rules of origin’ checks,” Bowman told me. These are used to ensure that goods from outside are not imported through EU countries to avoid paying the higher tariff on goods from outside the bloc.