In case you missed it, this is a letter on the UK and the EU’s customs union that was in last Tuesday’s Evening Standard :
Mrs May should have the courage to keep Britain in the Customs Union, as recommended last week by a large majority in the House of Lords. A clear majority in the country would support this, as it would safeguard jobs and livelihoods. The EU Referendum did NOT endorse leaving the Customs Union.
On the one hand, staying in the Customs Union would save delays at our borders, most damaging for industries such as automotive where up to ten separate cross-border movements of component parts can be required before a finished car is produced in Britain. Staying would also retain Britain’s tariff-free access to the rest of the EU, a market of 443 million people. For finished cars tariffs stand at 10% and for many agricultural products at 20%. It is most unlikely that any future trade agreement between the EU and the UK would offer the same benefits as we receive at present, and 43% of our current exports are sold to our closest neighbours in the EU.
On the other hand, leaving the Customs Union would require a vast increase in bureaucracy and at great cost to taxpayers, as thousands of customs officers would have to be hired for the new system of control. The multiple entry points on the 310 mile Irish border, Britain’s only land border with the EU could either be left as an open back door, or if new controls were introduced, the Good Friday Agreement would be put at risk. Leaving the Customs Union would lose us access to over 60 existing EU trade agreements with non-EU countries and greatly worsen our carbon footprint as we seek to divert trade to more distant markets. In any case, the benefits of being free to negotiate our own trade deals are illusory, as Britain with only 65m people has far less clout and fewer concessions to offer than the total EU market, currently 508m people including Britain.