On BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, claimed that Britain could be in the EU Customs Union and still be free to negotiate its own trade agreements with other countries around the world.
Andrew Marr asked Sir Keir:
“Have you spoken to a single senior figure inside the EU – anyone in any authority who has told you this is a runner?”
Sir Keir answered, “Yes.” But when Mr Marr asked him, “Who?”, he answered:
“I’m not going to disclose confidential meetings.”
This shouldn’t be kept confidential. If Sir Keir really believes that Labour could achieve a trade agreement with the EU that, frankly, goes against the very essence of what the European Union is all about, then he should be completely open about it.
As Mr Marr pointed out to Sir Keir, Article 3 of the Founding Treaty of the European Union clearly states that the EU shall have “exclusive competence” in its Customs Union.
Earlier this month, the EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, asserted that allowing Britain to be in its Customs Union whilst at the same time entering into its own trade agreements with other countries would, “run counter to the very foundations of our Single Market of Europe.”
He added it would mean the UK could apply “lower tariffs” than the EU, thereby competing head on with the Single Market. Asserted Mr Barnier:
“We believe this would create a serious risk of trade flows going elsewhere, to the detriment of our companies.”
Countries in a customs union agree a common external tariff for imports from non-member countries. The tariff revenue may then be shared between members, with the possibility that the country that collects the duty retaining a share (between 20 and 25% in the European customs union) to cover the additional administration costs associated with border trade.
But Sir Keir insisted:
“I would not have surfaced this as a Labour Party position if I hadn’t had the assurance that this was a negotiation that could be had.”
A negotiation had with who? Sir Keir refuses to say.
Clearly not with Mr Barnier, or the EU Council President, Donald Tusk.
Immediately after the referendum Mr Tusk warned that the Brexit negotiations would, “stick unconditionally to the Treaty rules and fundamental values.”
“There will be no compromises in this regard.”
Sir Keir’s proposal seems more, classic, cake-and-eat-it fantasy: promising to the British electorate a Brexit that simply cannot be delivered.
EU law expert, Professor Steve Peers commented:
“The UK could negotiate trade deals about services and non-tariff barriers, but not tariffs.”
However, being able to negotiate tariffs outside of the EU appears to be what Sir Keir is proposing.
I contacted Sir Keir to ask him:
“Can you please clarify if you meant that the UK could be in the EU Customs Union whilst also independently negotiating its own tariffs with other countries across the world?”
I pointed out to Sir Keir’s office:
“On the face of it, it seems as if Sir Keir is claiming that the UK could be in the EU Customs Union but at the same time negotiate its own tariff arrangements with other countries, which would go against EU rules. We look forward to clarification.”
But his office simply wrote back to say,
“Keir’s comments were consistent with what Jeremy Corbyn set out in his Brexit speech earlier this year when he said:
‘We have long argued that a customs union is a viable option for the final deal. So 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.
‘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.’
But that simply explains The Labour Party’s Brexit policy; it does not explain how this policy could ever be achieved, or who in the EU would support such an arrangement.
A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats told me,
“Labour’s proposal is like something out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. It is just fantasy.
“No-deal or any deal, Brexit will take a sledgehammer to the UK economy. Labour must wake up to that. Sadly, Jeremy Corbyn opposition to Brexit is as absent now as it was during the referendum campaign.
“Liberal Democrats demand better.”
Liberal Democrats say they are, “united in fighting Brexit and giving the people the final say, including the option to remain in the EU.”
International trade expert, Jason J Hunter commented:
“The issue is that Keir Starmer has no evidence to back up his claim, refuses to provide anything at all, and he is contradicted by the facts and treaties.
“He’s like a one-man fantasist.”
Mr Hunter added that, in any event, it could take up to ten years for the UK to complete negotiations to be in the EU Customs Union. He added:
“In the meantime, companies are moving out of the UK and jobs are being lost. By the time we’ve got a worse deal than we already had, we won’t have much to export anyway.”
Sir Keir has proposed that any Brexit agreement would have to pass ‘six tests’ before Labour could support it:
① Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
② Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?
③ Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
④ Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
⑤ Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
⑥ Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?
All well and good, but anyone who knows anything about the EU (and one would hope Sir Keir does) must realise that the sum of the six tests can only be achieved by the UK remaining a full member of the EU.
Before the referendum, Theresa May said:
“It is not clear why other EU member states would give Britain a better deal than they themselves enjoy.”
But now, after the referendum, that’s precisely what both the Tory government and the Labour opposition are expecting the EU to offer us: a better deal than they themselves enjoy.
It’s all fantasy.
It’s time that the Tories and Labour were honest with the electorate.
No Brexit is better than any Brexit. Only continued full EU membership can offer us “the exact same benefits” as we have now as a member.
Once that’s fully realised and understood, there’s only one path that can and should be taken. #StopBrexit. That’s what needs to be done.
It doesn’t matter how it’s done. A people’s vote. A general election. Or politicians simply being truthful with us at last and admitting that Brexit will destroy our country.
What matters is that it is done, and done soon. Britain is now perilously close to the cliff edge.
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