European Interest

Why Britain must stay in European customs union

Flickr/Duncan Hull/CC BY 2.0
A view of the British city Dover.

There’s a reason Britain must stay in a comprehensive customs union with the European Union. It’s the only way to preserve trade in its biggest markets after Brexit, the business lobby group CBI said on January 21.

But this is something that British Prime Minister Theresa May had ruled out a year ago, arguing that Britain wanted the freedom to negotiate its own trade deals.

Carolyn Fairbairn, the director general of the CBI, which represents 190,000 UK businesses m employing people, disagrees. “Looking at this hard choice around customs union or not, the value of our frictionless trade within the European Union is worth more than having the potentially unknown value of trade deals in other parts of the world,” she told British Television Network ITV’s Peston On Sunday.

As reported by the Reuters news agency, Fairbairn was speaking ahead of a speech on January 22 in which she will call for greater urgency in Brexit talks to give clarity to companies that will otherwise need to trigger alternative plans, including moving jobs and investment offshore.

“Time is running out – by March next year our country will be out of the EU,” she will say, according to excerpts of the speech released on January 21.

Fairbairn will call for a “jobs-first” transition deal to be nailed down in the next 70 days in her speech and unambiguous heads of terms to be agreed with the European Union by October.

According to Reuters, she will say a no deal scenario would be an act of “great economic self-harm”, by imposing billions of pounds of costs on UK goods sold to the EU and vice versa, and existing trade deals between the EU and Canada and the EU Norway would not be the best solution for Britain.

In a separate report, Bloomberg quoted French President Emmanuel Macron as saying on January 20 that the UK will likely end up with something “between full access and a trade agreement.”

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