MPs urge continued customs union membership to avoid 'bureaucratic bombshell'
A cross-party group of pro-European MPs is urging the Government to keep Britain in the EU customs union to avoid a “Brexit bureaucracy bombshell” for UK firms.
The All-party Parliamentary Group on EU Relations cites figures estimating a £25bn hit to the economy, with expensive new red tape for British companies.
Theresa May has repeatedly committed to leaving the customs union, allowing the UK to forge its own bilateral trade deals with countries outside the EU.
Labour have also shifted their position recently, with Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer saying his party now backs continued single market and customs union membership throughout any transitional period.
He has called for a permanent deal which "retains the benefits of the customs union and the single market", though Labour have yet to spell out what that would look like.
The latest report from the APPG, which is chaired by Tory MP Anna Soubry and Labour’s Chuka Umunna, claims the Government’s stance will create serious problems in two areas – the economy and borders.
The MPs say that outside the customs union British businesses could be forced to pay tariffs and some will have to abide by complex ‘rules of origin’, which could prove expensive for small firms.
They also argue that there is not enough time for the Home Office to set up a proper customs system before Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.
While there are strong indications that the UK will seek a transition period before fully exiting the customs union, the MPs argue the best move would be to remain members on a permament basis – a move which would effectively render Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade redundant.
In a foreword to today's report Ms Soubry and Mr Umunna said:
“Leaving the Customs Union would be a reckless and economically dangerous self-inflicted wound. It doesn't have to be that way.
“Ministers have shown greater pragmatism on several Brexit issues in recent weeks, which is welcome. But on the issue of customs, rhetoric simply does not match reality.
“Their hasty choice to leave the Customs Union, and their lack of realism and preparation regarding real alternatives, increases the chances that we could face a crash into chaos and confusion in our customs system after Brexit.
“One of the reasons consistently put forward for leaving the EU was to reduce the amount of red tape but the new, more complex, proposals look nothing short of a Brexit bureaucracy bombshell for British businesses.”