SMEs have felt first-hand the negative effects of the EU and its Customs Union

SMEs have felt first-hand the negative effects of the EU and its Customs Union

Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are the backbone of the British economy. They make up for the majority of employment within the UK business community.

SMEs largely rely upon a number of Trade Associations to work in their interests. Most small- and medium-sized companies lack the resources to actively get involved with decision makers. Many of us rely on Trade Association officers to liaise with politicians and civil servants. Some politicians take the word of Trade Associations as if it were the businesses themselves that were speaking. Sadly this is not always the case.

As managing director of a medium-sized enterprise, I am only too aware of the burden that an individual needs to take on to understand the above issues and to break through the maze of bureaucracy to get the points over. People running SMEs do not have the resources or time to comprehend – and take action – to get their views across. This is why we are outgunned by numerous rich and powerful organisations and individuals who have their own interests at heart, not ours.

Trade associations are not businesses, they are organisations which are at times full of good intention, though they are not necessarily experts on running a business. On the issue of Brexit, their view is often skewed and the issues concerning what constitutes a clean Brexit are a prime example.

Most executives in business accept that we need to leave the Single Market. There is no doubt as to who, in future, should make our laws. However, some big companies and multi-nationals have other interests; some are unhappy about the vote to Leave, and would prefer to stay in the EU.

The Customs Union is no more than a protectionist racket. Starting with the European Coal and Steel Community, and then embracing agriculture and all other parts of business, it strives to protect inefficient and subsidised European players against developing nations and more efficient producers from around the world. It is the opposite of fair trade. It damages many businesses throughout the UK and serves to control the market as the big players like. Membership has been harmful for us and other British businesses. It has excluded many of our traditional markets, particularly the Commonwealth; it prevents us from making our own trade agreements worldwide.

All the recent talk on “the Customs Union”, “a Customs Union” or a “Customs Arrangement” is of great concern. It is the language that some vested interests are using, in effect, to keep the UK in the EU, against the will of the British people.

I and many others have been working for decades to try and highlight just how damaging our membership of the EU has been to us. We have seen our international trade shrink and have watched over the demise of our manufacturing capabilities as businesses have been less able or willing to invest for the future. Our productivity has plunged because it is often easier to invest in cheap labour rather than train and invest at home. Multinationals have seen fit to export our jobs and expertise to other locations where labour is cheaper and incentives are greater, often with help from the EU: our money being spent to export our jobs and our industries.

Our massive trade deficit in the Single Market and the Customs Union outweighs all of the other downsides and costs of belonging to the EU: nearly 5% of our GDP.

Some Trade Associations say we need regulatory alignment and that we should continue to be controlled by EU institutions over our standards; but such an outcome would be disastrous for the UK. What we need to gain is “mutual recognition” of standards, and ensure the re-emergence of the British Standards Institute (BSI). The BSI charter should be re-written, returned to the original wording: to act in the interests of British business and the British nation.

Enforced “regulatory alignment” would at best inhibit our future capabilities and at worst destroy any chance of us winning the great prize of increased prosperity outside the EU. Still shackled to the EU, our prospects would be seriously affected. If we have to accept EU regulation, we are being regulated by the EU. Of course, there is no harm in accepting into British Standards any part of euro-norms that are beneficial to us; and it is always possible to use euro-norms to export into the diminishing share of world trade that is the EU.

The Irish border issue has been weaponised by EU bureaucrats and heads of member states, all of which is fuel to the fire of the ultra-Remainers, who strive to change the result of the referendum. The EU is actively working to support the continuity Remain camp because they don’t want us to go. They have far more to lose than we do, and nothing to gain as we will.

The EU is rightly worried that the UK will succeed when free from the constraints of the Single Market, the ECJ, the Customs Union, EU standards and regulation. This is because we will thrive, and they know it.

We will stop paying into the EU coffers for the right to buy their goods (circa £100 billion deficit per year in goods) but we will be free to regulate and re-vitalise our British Standards (BS) in our own interests, and in the interests of our customers around the world.

There is now the once in a lifetime chance to break free from stifling EU bureaucracy. Businesses like ours stand ready to invest in the future, because now the chance of being free gives us hope. Hope is what every working man and woman of this country needs to feel and I can assure any politician who reads this piece, that to betray that hope will never be forgiven.

Theresa May is right to stress we will not be in the Customs Union. We must not be regulated in any way by the EU. The struggle by some to keep us regulated by the EU is a struggle against the nation. Out means Out; let’s get on with it please.