The former head of customs procedures for the European Commission issues a stark warningby Michael Lux / June 1, 2018 / Leave a comment
With regard to customs formalities, there are only two options after Brexit: either the UK remains in the customs union with the European Union and in the single market, or it doesn’t. The first of these options eliminates the need of border formalities between the UK and the EU. The second necessitates them.
Let us have a look at why this is.
Barring a “no deal” scenario, the UK will, under the terms of the draft withdrawal agreement, remain until the end of 2020 in the customs union and the single market, so the practical consequences of Brexit will be felt only after this period.
When the UK ceases to be in the customs union with Europe, as is currently the plan, three scenarios are possible: a customs union agreement between the UK and the EU (as is currently the case between the EU and Turkey); a free trade agreement between the UK and the EU (as it is currently the case between the EU and Canada, Norway and Ukraine); or no agreement and so World Trade Organisation rules would apply.
Neither a comprehensive customs union agreement, nor a comprehensive free trade agreement can provide the same degree of trade facilitation as full-on customs union membership. There is a big difference between remaining in the customs union with Europe and concluding a customs union agreement. This difference is often blurred in discussions.
If border formalities are to be avoided on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland must remain in the customs union with Europe, with the consequence that trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be subject to border formalities; however, ports and airports are easier to control than a land border with many crossing points. Or the whole of the UK must remain in the customs union, with the consequence that border formalities are avoided but the UK cannot pursue its own customs and trade policy.