The chaos doesn’t get any better. With the prospect of the UK facing a hard Brexit on Friday evening, we are no closer to any resolution of the political crisis. The Prime Minister has started talks with the Opposition, who are sticking with their goals of achieving a Customs Union (CU) with the EU – one that is significant, protects workers’ rights and is “Boris-proof”. In other words, a CU that cannot be altered by a new Prime Minister after the Article 50 process is resolved.
Feelings are running high. I am getting a lot of emails from constituents and we are trying to reply to all of them. Some even claim the Lisbon Treaty hasn’t been mentioned at all. We are politely replying that we are literally talking about nothing else – Article 50 refers to the 50th article of the Lisbon Treaty.
I have been supporting the PM’s deal from the start, that delivers a controlled departure of the EU and, importantly, merely refers to the period until the 31st December 2020 and how we use that time to secure a comprehensive EU free trade deal thereafter. Crucially, it allows us to do other, global free trade deals, where we are in complete control of our trade policy.
However, the Labour proposals are incredibly light on detail. A Customs Union is a wide-ranging proposal. At its very least, it merely proposes that we take advantage of zero tariffs on goods only, within the customs union area. That sounds simple, but it doesn’t free up borders, is unlikely to resolve the Northern Ireland border issue, and prevents us from doing comprehensive free trade deals elsewhere. There is a great deal against a CU that needs longer than this column to outline. A comprehensive Customs Union that frees up borders and resolves Northern Ireland ties us deeper into the EU customs union, but at a greater cost to us, so the question becomes: how much pain are we prepared to endure?
The emails I receive are widespread and cover almost all eventualities, from revoke Article 50, to the other extreme where people say to me they are prepared to lose economic growth and jobs to secure an ideologically pure Brexit. That said, I have never received an email from someone saying they are prepared to sacrifice their own job at the altar of Brexit purity.