Ireland : the UK exits the EU, it will leave the EU’s customs union. Yet with just months remaining of the article 50 deadline, the government still doesn’t have a clear customs policy. It has not endorsed either of Whitehall’s two existing options, which the EU has pre-emptively dismissed. Theresa May needs to break the impasse at her Chequers Brexit cabinet meeting.
Meanwhile the Labour party and some Conservatives demand a new customs union with the EU. Together they may have a majority in parliament, although this has not been tested. Whatever Labour claims, a permanent customs union would mean outsourcing trade policy to Brussels (where we would no longer have a seat at the table), and allowing the EU to sell access to our markets without our control. That’s not a sustainable long-term position.
On the other hand, some Brexiteers too readily dismiss the serious and legitimate concerns of business, especially those with supply chains crossing the continent. Equally, both the UK and EU have agreed that Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances require specific solutions to avoid a hard border.
A few weeks ago, the Brexit cabinet refused to back May’s preferred option of a new customs partnership, which would mean the UK collecting EU customs levies. The alternative – maximum facilitation (“max fac”) – would have to work as part of a broader customs agreement with the EU and will reportedly not be ready by the end of the transition. A possible third way on customs is due to be discussed at Chequers, but will need to address concerns of business and the Irish border.