The British government affirmed a commitment to leaving the Customs’ Union on Monday, ahead of a parliamentary debate on Thursday.
“We don’t think staying in a customs union is the right thing to do and it isn’t government policy to do so,” a government spokesperson said.
Theresa May’s government made clear that the UK will not be joining “a Customs’ Union,” as the Labour opposition has proposed.
The affirmation was necessary after the House of Lords voted by 348-to-225 in favour of remaining in the Customs’ Union, amending the UK’s EU Withdrawal Bill. The vote is not binding for the government but made a debate in the House of Commons inevitable.
Leaving the Customs’ Union means British goods exported to the EU could be subjected to external tariffs; more significantly, it makes the prospect of a border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland seemingly unavoidable.
Last week, a number of leaks to the press made clear that the European Commission calls into question the transition deal unless there is an agreement on Ireland.
Hardline Leave campaigners have long argued that it is possible to avoid a hard border in Ireland if the EU ignores trade between Small and Medium businesses and creates online facilities for bigger corporations.
The Prime Minister advocates for the possibility of “voluntary compliance” with EU regulation, which signals the emergence of a border whenever the UK deviates. This choice restricts the possibilities of separate trade deals with third parties in terms that are not compatible with EU regulations.
No Conservative Majority
On Thursday, Conservative supporters of remaining in the Customs’ Union, including Anna Soubry and Kenneth Clarke, will argue their case. They will also be joined by Nicky Morgan, the former education minister that now chairs the parliaments’ Treasury committee.
British media suggest that there are at least 10-12 MPs advocating continued membership of the Customs’ Union. In view of a meaningful vote on leaving the Customs’ Union in the following months, Theresa May does not have a parliamentary majority, unless she can count on Labour votes.
Although this debate does have binding consequences for Theresa May, a heated discussion will bring to the fore pro-EU opposition within her party.
On Sunday, ministers Sajid Javid and Michael Gove reiterated their support for leaving the Customs’ Union, while The Times made reference to a possible cabinet revolt. Brexit Secretary David Davies, Trade Secretary Liam Fox, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also signalled their willingness to resist remaining in the Customs’ Union. Apparently, both Gove and Johnson were willing to resign, unless the government affirmed its red lines.
The international Trade Secretary is expected to make the case for the opportunities presented from leaving the Customs’ Union on Monday.
Similar issues will emerge with the debate over fundamental rights guaranteed by the EU charter, which do not have the same measure of protection in UK law.