Labour should oppose outsourcing trade policy through a customs union or face severe electoral consequences

Labour should oppose outsourcing trade policy through a customs union or face severe electoral consequences

This week Parliament began debating the Government’s legislation in respect of the Withdrawal Agreement. The Agreement itself has divided the eurosceptic movement, with some expressing deep concern over the status of Northern Ireland and other aspects of the Treaty.

While the legislation has been paused following the defeat last night of the progamme motion, one amendment that had already been tabled to the Bill is seeking to maintain a customs union with the European Union. Supported by MPs across the House it, if passed it would result in the United Kingdom being bound to European customs arrangements after we leave the European Union. This is not what the British people voted for in the 2016 referendum. The whole of the eurosceptic movement is opposed to it.

If support for a customs union is passed, then the decision of the British people to leave the EU is not respected. It would deprive this country of its ability to strike its own trade deals and would continue to place financial pressure on the national cake through its membership costs. Furthermore, it would mean that in the future, a British government, whether Labour or Tory, would not be in control of this country’s trade policy.

Strategically, it would place the United Kingdom on a chessboard. We would become a pawn-able, to be used by the Commission in any negotiation as leverage against third countries. Our assets, policy, industry, commerce, public services etc could be used in negotiations with other countries and we would be powerless to prevent their loss.

A customs union is an exclusive barrier built around its members. It means that tariffs are placed on goods entering that customs union. The majority of MPs in the House of Commons want to see the Developing World lifted out of poverty and brought into parallel in terms of living standards and economic prosperity with the rest of Europe. A customs union would have exactly the opposite effect and would place additional hardships on those countries, many of which are in the British Commonwealth and to whom we owe a special social responsibility. If Labour is truly an internationalist party that believes in the solidarity among peoples around the world then we should be tearing down walls and barriers, not erecting them between privileged Europe against the rest of the world.

There are many reasons why a customs union would not be appropriate for the United Kingdom after we leave the EU. But for no other reason Labour should not support this because seventy percent of Labour’s constituencies voted to leave the EU – and between four and five million 2017 Labour voters supported the decision to leave the EU.

In order to win the next general election, Labour must win seats from all parties, but the bulk of those seats we need to win voted Leave by a very significant margin. Seeking to maintain British membership of the customs union would not ensure Labour is able to gain the support of those voters when the election comes. If Labour MPs continue to support amendments that seek to hinder the progress of Brexit or water it down, we will face the consequences at the ballot box from an already angry public.

The customs union is indeed an anti-socialist model. Labour rightly wishes to intervene in whole sections of the economy, from public ownership of utilities and rail, and a redistributive economic policy, to ending the outsourcing of public services to the private sector. Yet if Labour were to support a customs union we would in effect be outsourcing our trade policy to a body over which we have no control or influence; namely the European Commission. In order to fund our public programme we need to secure competitive trade deals to increase the revenue to the Exchequer. We could not implement our manifesto to the full if a customs union amendment were passed.

The whole process of leaving the EU has been challenging. The British people are now becoming increasingly frustrated and angry with politicians in Westminster. Support for a customs union would certainly increase their anger and frustration and it would certainly compel the Government to delay our leaving further as Brussels would surely need to consent to an amendment to the deal agreed by Parliament. A clean-break Brexit is the best possible outcome for the United Kingdom and so consequently, MPs from all sides of the House of Commons should reject the customs union amendment when the division bell sounds.