As UK Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to trigger the Article 50 EU exit mechanism on Wednesday, Open Europe has published a new report, entitled, ‘Nothing to declare: A plan for UK-EU trade outside the Customs Union.’
The study concludes that leaving the EU’s Customs Union is the only logical step for the UK to pursue an independent trade policy and achieve a truly ‘Global Britain’ outside the EU. Open Europe assesses different models of collaboration outside a customs union, and argues that the UK and the EU should aim for full cooperation on the practicalities and administration of customs as part of a comprehensive UK-EU free trade deal.
A dozen key points on customs
The UK should leave the EU’s Customs Union (EUCU). The UK Government has stated its intention to leave key parts of EUCU (the Common External Tariff and the Common Commercial Policy). Open Europe’s assessment is that leaving these and EUCU overall is correct. Brexit means the UK must be able to shape its own trade policy. It can only do so outside of EUCU.
The UK should not seek a ‘half-in, half-out’ arrangement, which would be the worst of all worlds. The UK should leave EUCU entirely to maximise opportunities. Prime Minister Theresa May has suggested that she is open to being an “associate member” of EUCU or remaining a signatory to elements of it. Open Europe believes that, while it is sensible to keep an open mind, no ‘half-in’ option is better than being fully out. Nonetheless, the UK should consider retaining membership of some relevant conventions.
It is in both the UK’s and EU’s interest quickly to secure full cooperation on the practicalities and administration of customs as part of a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Such an agreement could be a chapter in a UK-EU FTA or an accompanying, discrete customs facilitation agreement. The EU already has agreements on customs facilitation with non-members, including Switzerland and Canada. A comprehensive UK-EU FTA will ensure the continuation of tariff-free UK-EU trade and minimise customs delays.
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