View from Westminster

There were a couple of things dominating the political news last week; one ridiculous, one important. The silly news was that Jeremy Corbyn was somehow a Czech asset for intelligence, based on one or more cups of tea with a Czech diplomat turned spy back in the 1980s. Its no secret that Jeremy Corbyn is of a strong left persuasion and given that embassies in London make contact with MPs frequently, I have no doubt that he would have responded to an invitation to meet someone from the Czech embassy. But that in itself does not make him a spy, nor would he, as a back bench MP, have any useful intelligence to pass on. But this story does show how trial by media, trial by rumour and speculation, gets out of hand. Whilst I completely agree that he should be engaged openly on his policies, if there is evidence of any wrongdoing, it should be investigated properly. Otherwise leave him alone to get on with debating policies.

The second story is the policy side and during this week, we are now learning more about both parties Brexit positions. Labour is now looking for a customs union and Conservatives will formally announce our negotiating position later this week.

A customs union is a device whereby a group of countries agree on a common tariff on goods charged to other countries seeking to trade with that group. Whilst it is outward looking, it does have the benefit of allowing smoother customs checks between the UK and the EU and it does make great progress in resolving the Northern Ireland / Southern Ireland boarder conundrum. But in entering a customs union with the EU, we in the UK will not be able to undercut the tariff charged for the whole of the EU on imports. Indeed, it is highly debatable that we will be able to enter into trade deals on our own; we may have to sign up to those negotiated by the EU. That is not taking back control, nor is it an efficient way to do trade deals and we will be just a small part of a wider set of interests.

It is vital that we get on with negotiations based on an agreed starting point. We don’t know how the EU will respond to our position but time is marching on and businesses do need clarity of direction. The next few months will be important.