Customs Union confusion – yet again

Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech about Brexit in Coventry today. He was 100% correct in his observations about the Government’s progress (or lack of it) :- “They can’t agree amongst themselves about what their priorities are or what future they want for Britain after Brexit….. The truth is we really don’t know much more about where they’re actually heading in these talks.

On the other hand, he has fallen into the trap into which a number of other politicians have fallen – he fails to understand what a customs union actually is.  He said, “During the transition period, Labour would seek to remain in a customs union with the EU and within the single market. That means we would abide by the existing rules of both.”

Why? if he wants us to stay within the single market, remaining in the customs union is superfluous. His reasoning is that “when 44 per cent of our exports are to EU countries and 50 per cent of our imports come from the EU, then it is in both our interests for that trade to remain tariff-free.”  That is fair enough, but Norway, which is not in the Customs union, manages virtual tariff-free trade with the EU. EFTA and EEA membership is sufficient.

Corbyn’s confusion is laid bare when he says that “Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe and to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland. ” How can the EU be part of a customs union with the UK while being a customs union in and of itself?

He then went on to say “But we are also clear that the option of a new UK customs union with the EU would need to ensure the UK has a say in future trade deals. A new customs arrangement would depend on Britain being able to negotiate agreement of new trade deals in our national interest.” If the UK was able to make its own trading arrangements, then it could not be in a customs union with the EU. The whole point of a customs union is that it includes a common external tariff. If we negotiated a trade deal with, for example, Australia while the EU did not have one, what would be the point if we were forced to charge the same tariff as the EU on Australian goods?

Perhaps Mr Corbyn and other advocates of either remaining in the EU’s Customs Union or somehow creating a new one with the EU should see what goes on at Kapikule on the border between EU Bulgaria and non-EU Turkey. Turkey is linked to the EU’s customs union, so you would expect reasonably seamless movement across the border. According  to this report, however, this is far from being the case, with delays for lorries sometimes lasting for several days.  A customs union may be a good idea for micro-states like Monaco or San Marino, but not for a country like the UK, where each year, over 2 million lorries pass through the port of Dover alone.

What we desperately need is a customs clearance agreement with the EU, or else we could face “Operation stack on steroids” on the M20 after Brexit Day.  Unfortunately, if so many of our senior politicians cannot distinguish between customs clearance and a customs union, there are good reasons to fear that Kent may become gridlocked with lorries in a mere 396 days’ time.  Yes, it really is getting that close and on the basis of today’s speech, it seems that the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition has no more idea of how to save us from such a disaster by delivering a sensible, workable Brexit than our Government.

Photo by Peanut99

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13 comments

  1. Phil JonesReply

    John, I also found Corbyn’s position to be totally confusing. He seems to perhaps want to stay in the current Customs Union perpetually rather than just for a transition period. (Not sure if he wants that, but seems maybe the case!) But to stay in perpetually you have to stay as an EU Member State, i.e. not Leave, and free movement would continue along with Single Market and ECJ jurisdiction. You can’t separate them. I can’t quite figure out what he’s intending. As you seem to suggest, he’d be better off advocating full leaving, then EFTA with possible EEA (something I’m against), but he’s not doing that. Trying to thread a needle that can’t be threaded?! The EUers like Barnier and Juncker must be wondering what on earth Corbyn is suggesting! Corbyn seems to change his views from day to day, very scary indeed to think that he might get his hands on the levers of power.

    Maybe the real problem for Corbyn and the Remainers is that they want somehow to put something in place before the UK fully leaves, i.e. they don’t want complete EU/UK political separation coincident with, or preceding, a trade agreement — but rather want something lesser in the form of an incomplete political separation as a trade-off for a trade agreement. In other words they want to muddy the waters on Brexit by keeping the UK in the EU as some type of quasi-province (as opposed to being a Member State which I refer to as being a province). Whereas Norway, Switzerland, etc. were not in the EU but joined the EFTA as a half-way measure, Corbyn seems to want the UK to assume that same trading situation vis-a-vis the EU as a part of the Brexit political separation process. Sort of an EFTA situation while not being in the EFTA. I think that’s where he’s coming from. Remainers don’t want complete political separation but rather want some type of partial political separation that would make it easier for a future British Government to opt back into the EU fully. All very devious.

    I know that you are in favour of EFTA membership. I’m certainly not, but can I ask where you stand as far as when you think the UK should go for that (apply for EFTA membership) if it did? Would it be before Brexit is fully implemented, i.e. before total political separation, thus before the UK leaves the CU and SM and ECJ? Or would it be only after Brexit is fully implemented? Others such as Messrs. Booker and Moore are in favour of EFTA but I haven’t read when exactly they think it should be implemented. Should it be part of the Brexit process or only afterwards and separate. And it seems rather vague as to whether they think the UK should be in EFTA just for the transition period or in permanently. If just for the transition period I’d be concerned that it would subsequently change to become permanent due to business pressure.

    My view has always been a complete and full political separation. Only afterwards would the UK perhaps look at EFTA or some other EU-associated-trade scheme. By then, however, I see Mr. Fox signing up for free trade with third countries and EFTA then being not something that would be seriously considered.

    • John Petley
      John PetleyReply

      Phil,

      In brief, as far as EFTA is concerned, I think it is the best way of ensuring seamless trade with its four members. Norway and Switzerland are actually quite important trading partners for us. We would reinvigorate EFTA and raise its profile as a trade-only alternative to the EU. If more people knew about it and we were able to leave seamlessly via this route, it might encourage other EU member states to leave. I would hate to see us end up with a botched withdrawal and then have to suffer the likes of Clegg, Blair, etc campaigning for us to re-join the EU. Further departures by member states, thus weakening and perhaps even collapsing the EU, would be the best way of ensuring this does not happen.

      You can be in EFTA and not in the EEA, like Switzerland. I’d be happy for this as a medium term option (In the longer term, I’d like to see both EFTA and the EEA replaced by a free trade agreement across Europe, including Russia.

      I would only advocate membership of the EEA via EFTA (As per Norway) as a short-term alternative to the appalling terms the EU seeks to impose on us as a transitional arrangement. Basically, our government is making such a mess of things that, given the short timescale before we leave, I can’t see any bespoke arrangement being ready to sign by March 2019 and we could face chaos. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but that is what I am picking up from industry’s concerns. Time will tell. I also wish we could have gone straight to a bespoke trade deal but I think the window for that has closed. It’s a case of EEA/EFTA being the least bad option to tide us over because of over 18 months’ confusion.and inertia at the heart of government.

      I hope this explains my position sufficiently clearly.

      On a different note, here (http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86784) is another critique of Corbyn’s speech. It seems like he knows no more about the production of cars than he does about what a customs union actually is.

  2. Simon BlanchardReply

    Of course Corbyn has completely betrayed Brexit as expected and is now about to attempt to throw a spanner in Brexit as he was going to from the beginning and if he can bring down the government all the better for him.

    Politicians have come to use speeches that have hidden meaning in them designed for the ears of others to listen to. this one was no different.
    I think a lot of people missed the hidden messages he had in his speech after about 30 minutes of complete waffle which clearly indicated his lack of any understanding on this subject of what a customs union is.

    This is what he said;
    “the constitution of the Labour Party includes a commitment to support the United Nations a promise and I quote; to secure piece, freedom, democracy, economic security and environmental concerns for all”

    This part was meant for the globalists in the UN his commitment to UN Agenda 21/30, which if you read it is to remove sovereignty from every nation state, control every aspect of all our lives to the point of driving every one, (except the elite), into huge Orwellian Megacities.

    and then at about 33 minutes in he talks about “tackling climate change”. This is another message which quite a few other politicians have said recently. I’ve now come to the conclusion this phrase has nothing to do with tackling climate change, but has a hidden meaning to say he and others who use it are committed to the globalist cause of open borders and stripping the nation states of the world of their sovereignty and he has received the large cheque in the post from Soros. thank you.

  3. Adam HileyReply

    anyone who votes for Corbyn and his apology of a party deserve all they get the Tories are bad enough get rid of these parties now and immediately leave the EU and ECHR

  4. david bartropReply

    We should all put stickers in our car rear windows such as. :-
    a picture of a hang glider,” Brexiteers like cliff edges , they can catch trade thermals from around tge world”
    The BBC continues to give disproportionate air time to Remainers and interrupt the few Brexit people they put on .
    David Bartrop

  5. Gordon WebsterReply

    Corbyn is experiencing major cognitive dissonance. He knows that Labour’s core voters and heartland voted Leave, and he knows that their major paymaster, Len McCluskey, wants Britain to stay in the EU. Squaring that circle, given that he has always been anti EU, is proving more than his meagre brain can cope with.
    An honest man would throw up his hands, and walk away, admitting it cannot be done.
    Corbyn, however, is a politician who has been seduced by the possibility of power, and the keys to No.10. He would sell his granny for that power, so Britain doesn’t have a look in.

  6. Jason BReply

    I like the idea of advocating a ‘Customs Clearance’ facility’as opposed to a Customs Union for the NI border issue..

    I wonder if the possibility of setting up a combined creation of a ‘Customs Clearance’ with the creation of ‘Cable car transportation’ for the exports / imports for appropriate goods movement over the border could be achieved instead. If possible this could greatly streamline things..

    Cable transport via google has been looked at in recent times by other countries.

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