Enough of the revisionism – at the referendum we did vote to Leave the EU’s Customs Union

Enough of the revisionism – at the referendum we did vote to Leave the EU’s Customs Union

More than 18 months since the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union and still those Remainers who cannot come to terms with the result are disputing what the vote to Leave actually means.

Their current issue of choice is over whether Brexit entails leaving the EU’s Customs Union. In today’s FT (£), Janan Ganesh writes in terms that “the debate over exit increasingly centres on whether Britain should remain in the customs union”, while I found myself having to go over the issue yet again in a debate with Emma Burnell, the Co-Editor of the Open Labour website, on Radio Five Live on Sunday night. Click here to listen for yourself.

Halfway through the discussion, Emma blasts: “We did not vote to leave the Customs Union… let’s try and be reasonable here!”, and gets increasingly agitated as she goes on to claim that the referendum result was pretty much solely about ending freedom of movement and therefore simply taking back control of British borders. She proceeded to suggest that if she can accept leaving the Single Market, then I should accept remaining in the Customs Union as a compromise.

So now seems like as good a time as any to set out, once and for all, that both Leavers and Remainers accepted leaving the Customs Union was indeed part and parcel of the vote to leave the EU. As Vote Leave explained during the campaign:

“Britain lacks the power to strike free trade deals with its trading partners outside Europe. Being in the EU means that Brussels has full control of our trade policy. We don’t even have an independent voice in the World Trade Organization – Brussels negotiates everything on our behalf and does a bad job… If we Vote Leave, we can negotiate for ourselves.” 

The only way that we can do those negotiations for ourselves, operate an independent trade policy and take our seat at the WTO again is by leaving the EU’s Customs Union. Indeed, the Treasury’s infamous pre-referendum analysis of the long-term economic impact of leaving the EU (the ‘Project Fear’ memo) reminded us that:

“…a common external trade policy is an inherent and inseparable part of a customs union.” 

The document also made clear that the Government saw Customs Union membership as a fundamental aspect of Single Market membership when it stated that “The Single Market provides access to EU markets through 3 broad elements”, the second of which was that “it creates a customs union within the EU”. It therefore followed in the Brexit scenarios modelled by the Treasury that with the exception of the deeply unsatisfactory Turkey-style arrangement:

“…all the alternatives involve leaving the customs union.”

I hope that’s settled now!

In the meantime, since we are leaving the Customs Union, I hope Emma Burnell and those of her ilk will take the time to read the excellent piece that Professor David Paton of Labour Leave and Economists for Free Trade wrote for us just last month: Why Labour should embrace free trade and campaign to stay out of the EU Customs Union.

Other BrexitCentral authors have made important contributions on the topic too, of which the following is just a selection: