Theresa May must not bind us into the purgatory of indefinite Customs Union membership

Theresa May must not bind us into the purgatory of indefinite Customs Union membership

The EU is not entitled to split the UK. And the EU is not entitled to direct how we regulate our economy and govern ourselves after we leave. You would think these two principles would be universally acceptable and easy to grasp but, in some quarters, evidently not.

As she prepares to attend the European Council in Brussels this week, it is critical the Prime Minister does not bind the UK into the purgatory of indefinite membership of the EU’s Customs Union.

That’s why this is the moment of truth. Not only does this decide out future relationship with the EU, it also decides our future as an independent nation.

Chequers is now a zombie plan. It is the living dead and staggers on, but is less popular than the poll tax. We all know we need to move on. So we need to know what the Government’s negotiating stance for this week will be. The Government appears now to be on the verge of proposing that the whole of the United Kingdom should stay within the Customs Union until, in the EU’s judgment, the Northern Ireland border issue is resolved. This is compounding appalling errors already made and making them worse.

Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech of 2017 centred around the ‘Brexit prize’ of securing a basic free trade agreement for goods and services with the EU with freedom to control our own regulations and trade as an independent nation (like most of the world outside the EU), modelled on “best in class” deals worldwide such the EU’s deals with Canada, South Korea and Japan.

We simply cannot be placed in a situation where the UK would never be free to strike its own global free trade deals.  We know the legal text is ready to go because David Davis has said his ex-Department spent many months of work on this.

The Brexit prize must include being able to strike ambitious, new and lucrative long-term free trade deals with countries like China, India and the United States – as well as the Commonwealth. That’s what our goal has to be.

Despite the mythology, issues relating to the Irish border are not a barrier to this. However, the language agreed with the EU last December relating to a backstop was, I’m afraid, naïve.

But let’s be clear. The necessary procedures described can all be implemented within the existing legal and operational frameworks of the EU and the UK, based on the mutual trust on which regular trade depends. Rational, pragmatic approaches can ensure that the vital trade across the border is maintained. There need be no threat whatsoever to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

The Prime Minister promised at Lancaster House not only the return of full control of our borders with the end of free movement of people but also an efficient and balanced framework focused on our economic needs. To not deliver this now would be to steal Brexit from Leave voters who were clear what they wanted.

They will not forgive Theresa May if she fails on this. This would break every promise our party has made to the public. It would be Brexit in name only and commit the UK to vassal state status.

A Canada-style free trade agreement has already been offered by the EU as a basis for our future trading relationship. This would command a majority in Parliament, unlike the unpopular Chequers plan. So let’s now seize control over our own destiny.