The UK’s negotiations with the EU were subject to full-scale wrecking tactics last week – and there is no doubt more to come.
The campaign to reverse Brexit is now in full swing, as political and corporate interests determined to upend the 2016 referendum seek to renege on the biggest expression of democracy in British history.
Jeremy Corbyn clearly wants Britain to leave the EU. He opposed membership of the European Economic Community in the 1975 referendum and, as an MP, voted against Maastricht in 1993 and the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.
Yet the Labour leader, despite his much-vaunted “principles”, last week announced that he wants to stay in a customs union with the EU – contradicting his own party’s June 2017 election manifesto. For Corbyn, all that matters during these UK-EU talks is causing chaos and toppling the Government – whatever the cost to the country.
The customs union puts a tariff wall around the EU, imposing charges on exports from the rest of the world. So UK shoppers pay more – particularly on food, clothing and footwear, goods accounting for a high share of poorer households’ incomes – often to protect inefficient EU producers elsewhere. Some 80pc of those tariff revenues are then sent directly to Brussels.
Because the UK has a higher share of non-EU trade than other large EU members, we get a uniquely bad deal from the customs union. Yes, it means there are no tariff barriers within the EU – which we’re often told is necessary to protect complex supply chains, particularly in manufacturing. But such tariffs generally apply only to finished goods, not components. And outside the customs union, “frictionless” trade is still possible under a UK-EU free-trade agreement.
Customs union membership apparently means we benefit from the EU’s “60-plus” free-trade agreements with other nations. But only around 30 are in force. Some are with sizeable economies – such as South Korea and Mexico. But most of the deals are with minnows.
The EU is bad at negotiating trade deals because member states’ interests often conflict. That’s why, after years of trying, there is no EU free-trade agreement with the US, China, India or any really large economy. The UK has a better chance of securing such deals negotiating alone. Switzerland signed a free-trade deal with China in 2014. And deals cut by London will favour sectors where Britain is strong – such as services – rather than being skewed towards French and German interests as EU deals so often are.
When the UK joined the EEC in the early Seventies, the bloc accounted for 30pc of global GDP. Once the UK has left, it will be just 15pc – despite the EU now comprising over four times more member states. It makes no sense for a diverse, competitive economy like Britain to be behind a tariff wall that harms our consumers and discriminates against 85pc of the world economy, while leaving us unable to cut bespoke trade deals with the world’s largest markets.
Organisations like the Confederation of British Industry exist to protect the interests of large incumbent corporations – which is why they never want change. Leaving the customs union, though, would help smaller firms grow by exporting to a much broader range of markets.
So Corbyn is now aligning himself with big corporate interests, at the expense of British shoppers. He is backing a customs union that blocks high-value exports from some of the poorest countries on earth.
Mindful of the billions of pounds of tariff revenue we send to Brussels each year, the European Commissionis determined to keep Britain inside the customs union. But the UK would then be obliged to impose EUtariffs without being able to influence them. Despite Brexit, the UK Government wouldn’t have control of our money, laws and trade as voters were told.
Corbyn’s volte-face was timed to coincide with the throwing of what one Brussels insider dubbed “a hand grenade aimed at the British Parliament”. The EU tried deliberately to destabilise Theresa May by issuing a draft treaty “rendering operational” plans to create a border in the Irish Sea, effectively splitting Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. This incendiary outcome can only be avoided, Brussels says, if Britain stays in the EU’s customs union.
The Prime Minister made her opposition “crystal clear” and David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, threatened to withhold UK cash unless the EU backs down over Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic. They were right to do so. For this border issue is being irresponsibly hijacked in an attempt to frighten the British public and make Brexit seem impossible.
The Irish border already copes with differing currencies, excise duties and other tax rates. The UK says, as detailed in an August 2017 government paper, there is no need for the kind of physical border checks that could inflame sectarian sensitivities. The head of the HMRC has also made clear no hard border is necessary, as has his Irish equivalent.
Even a European Commission paper published in November 2017 accepted there was no need for physical border posts. Technology and cameras would be sufficient – cameras that already exist on the Irish border. And if they’re ever attacked, drones can be used, as they are on the US-Canada border.
Despite all that, the European Commission continues to reject flatly any commonsense solution – so keen is it to mess with the Northern Ireland peace process to put pressure on May.
What kind of organisation deliberately frustrates a government seeking to implement the democratic will of its people? And what kind of people seek to aggravate ancient cross-border enmities, greatly improved but still fragile, just because a nation wants to leave the EU?