The customs union is debated in Parliament

Posted in UK and EU legal framework WTO and international trade

UK politicians continue to debate whether the UK should remain within a customs union with the EU post-Brexit.

The Government’s position, since the Prime Minister’s speech at Lancaster House, is that the UK would not remain within the Customs Union as this would restrict its ability to pursue an independent trade policy.  While the UK has previously set out proposals with regard to future customs arrangements, they have so far not been accepted by the EU.

Aside from the economic considerations surrounding the UK being outside of a customs union in that it would be very difficult to achieve frictionless trade, the issue is also relevant to resolving the impasse between the parties over the Irish border – a key element of the draft withdrawal treaty.  Ultimately, the UK must solve the problem of how to ensure the absence of a hard border in Ireland while being outside of the Customs Union and avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

During recent debates in the House of Lords in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the Government lost votes on several proposed amendments including one requiring Ministers to explore the option of the UK remaining in a customs union with the European Union. The Government also lost votes on proposed amendments limiting the ability of Government ministers to use secondary legislation to reduce existing EU rights once those rights have been incorporated into domestic law and for the Charter of Fundamental Rights to remain in force following Brexit.

Subsequently, in the House of Commons, ten select committee chairs tabled a motion “calling on the Government to include as an objective in negotiations on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union the establishment of an effective customs union between the two territories”. The motion, which was approved, is not binding on the Government.  However, it is a prelude to a future vote on a proposed amendment to the Trade and Customs Bill which, would seek amend the legislation to impose on the Government the an obligation to attempt to secure the UK’s participation in a customs union with the EU post-Brexit.

The Prime Minister has reiterated that the UK will not be in a customs union with the EU following Brexit, so it remains to be seen how this issue will be resolved.

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