As the Prime Minister is set to encourage her Cabinet to back a complex new arrangement on post-Brexit customs, a cross-party group of MPs are increasingly confident they can deliver victory for amendments to key Government legislation that would instead offer business the certainty of remaining in a customs union with the European Union. The amendments have been tabled by MPs from across the House of Commons, including nine Conservatives.
Launching what they call the “business and jobs amendments” to the Government’s Customs and Trade Bills – due to be debated in the Commons on 16th and 17th July respectively – Chuka Umunna MP and Anna Soubry MP, leading supporters of Open Britain and the co-chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group on EU relations have said that, with strong business support for their proposals already clear, Government attempts to block their bid will likely fail.
A number of business organisations representing hundreds of thousands of firms back the continued participation of the UK in the EU Customs Union including the CBI, the SMMT and the EEF.
Commenting, Anna Soubry MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said:
“Beyond a fringe who are committed to leaving the EU for ideological reasons, Conservative MPs are instinctively pro-business and pragmatic.
“They have seen the way in which leading businesses have warned about the potential for huge damage that a hard Brexit will bring, and they have heard business organisations and firms – large and small - make their case.
“As Conservatives, we believe prosperity flows from a strong private sector in a market economy where the opportunities for free trade are maximised. That is just what our amendments will do.”
Commenting, Chuka Umunna MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, added:
“In the last few weeks, the three biggest trade unions – Unite, GMB and Unison – have all made it clear that a hard Brexit is unacceptable to the labour movement, as have a huge number of businesses, because of the cost in jobs and lost opportunities for firms.
“Labour backs staying in a customs union and Labour colleagues make no apology for working with MPs in all parties to deliver the right results for working people.
“No party can claim to be pro-business and pro- the employees who work in them whilst at the same time voting against these ‘business and jobs’ amendments that would keep us in the customs union.
Both MPs were supported by local business people in their constituencies.
Richard Stone, Managing Director of RJB Stone, based in Clapham, said:
“For growing British companies like mine, with a huge amount of our business and trade in Europe, it is vital that the UK continues to participate in a customs union with the European Union.
“The additional cost, complexity and bureaucracy that crashing out of the Customs Union would create would obstruct and hold us back against our international competition. This would not be free trade, because not being part of a customs union would actually create a vast array of barriers to trade.
“It is pointless for the Government to try and cook up a new solution to this problem which won’t work or be accepted by our European counterparts. There is an existing model staring us in the face and that is the UK participating in the EU Customs Union.”
David Bondi, Managing Director of Freshcut Food, based in Broxtowe, said:
“Our business uses fresh vegetables, supplied every day of the year, from growers in EU countries.
“Our business is growing quickly because we reliably supply our customers with a wide range of high quality, fresh products. For us to be able to continue doing this, it is essential that our raw materials flow without delay or impediment through the ports. Therefore we need arrangements that ensure this happens every time, with the minimum of bureaucracy. As has been stated by others we urgently need certainty about how this will work.”
The campaign to back these amendments has been launched just as the Cabinet are meeting for an all-day session at Chequers in an effort – more than two years into the Brexit process – to finally agree policies on customs and trade.
Speculation has centred on the Prime Minister’s proposed “Facilitated Customs Arrangement” (FCA) said to be based on technology which does not yet exist but which would allow both the free flow of trade from the EU and also allow the UK to set its own tariffs and trade policy.
Mr Umunna said:
“Not only is this two years too late, it seems to be based on magical thinking – again. We already know that David Davis told the Prime Minister it would not be accepted by the EU and still she seems to be pressing on.
“We don’t have time for such political games any more – what we have to do is stand up for British business and jobs and that is what these amendments do.”
Ms Soubry added:
“I respect the Prime Minister’s dedication to getting an agreement amongst ministers but we are now past the point where we should be offering untested and faith-based solutions to the problems of trade and the Irish border.
“That is why I and other Conservatives will continue to press our amendments which support the tried, tested and workable approach of a strong customs union with the EU.”
Notes to Editors
The amendments are worded identically:
Business organisations in support of the CU say:
Carolyn Fairbairn – CBI:
“Remaining a member of a customs union for as long as it serves us to do so is consistent with the result of the referendum, and would be good for EU firms too.”
“In a new report, the Institute of Directors puts forward a partial customs union covering industrial goods and processed agricultural products that would help maintain the competitiveness of some of the UK’s key industries, while also allowing future governments to fulfil the referendum promise of an independent trade policy, including in areas such as tariffs on agricultural products like beef, oranges and sugar from developing nations.”
“The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) today called for swifter progress on Brexit and a deal that, as a minimum, maintains customs union membership and delivers single market benefits.”
“Loss of access to both the single market and the customs union would condemn the manufacturing sector to a painful and costly Brexit.”