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It was the early 1960s. The company I worked for designed and manufactured specialist components for aircraft. We were asked for initial designs for such components to meet the stringent requirements of a supersonic airliner – Concord – proposed as a joint project between British and French aircraft manufacturers.
We were in competition with a French manufacturer of similar components. Whoever won the design competition, both companies would manufacture the components. Winning the design competition offered prestige, but it was manufacturing that held the promise of long term profits. So neither company tried too hard to win the design competition.
In the event, our designs were the closest to the specification so it was we who were asked to work up the designs into plans for manufacture. And, decades later, we all know that no-one made any money from Concord.
I tell this story because it is an early example of international co-operation in manufacturing. Britain was not even a member of the EU back then, although much effort was being put into applying, only to be vetoed by the then French president, Charles DeGaule.
These days most complex machines – not just aircraft, but motor vehicles and domestic appliances – are manufactured by international consortia using components sourced from around the world. Within the EU, these consortia take full advantage of the Single Market and Customs Union to import components tariff free from one part of the Union to another and sell the resulting machine in most member states.
In the automotive industry, for example, final assembly of one model might take place in the UK, and of another in France or Belgium, with components for both sourced from several countries. No wonder these companies are worried about the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Their supply chains will be disrupted, their UK businesses rendered unviable. This applies to UK based component manufacturers supplying end users elsewhere in the EU just as much as to UK based manufacturers sourcing components from other parts of the EU.
It also applies to UK based food processors importing ingredients from within the EU, and UK farmers and horticulturalists supplying ingredients to EU processors. Such contracts generally take years to negotiate. This explains why the UK can’t “just walk away” as some of those who voted “leave” two years ago would wish. The reality is that, unless David Davis and his team can come up with something as close as possible to the existing Single Market and Customs Union, the future looks very bleak indeed for British businesses of all sizes.
Patrick Minford, one of the few economists who favour Brexit, admits this but is unconcerned, stating that the UK can do without manufacturing. The leadership of the Labour Party should be very worried about the livelihoods of their members and supporters. It is beyond belief that they are not fulfilling the proper role of an opposition and fighting tooth and nail to prevent #Brexit.
Blather is an old Scots word ultimately derived from an earlier Scandinavian word for chatter or prattle. I could have used any one of many words to denote the nonsense that is still being uttered by British politicians who want the UK to leave the EU. I was tempted to use a crude reference to bovine excrement or an equally unsavoury noun usually associated with a certain part of the male anatomy that comes by the pair.
I caught a segment of the ‘Tonight‘ programme on Irish television earlier in the week in which Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was taking part. Asked what was his problem with the Single Market and the Customs Union, he asserted that they prevent the UK negotiating trade deals with non-EU countries, deals which he was sure would benefit Northern Ireland businesses. When it was pointed out that most of those countries, including those who are members of the Commonwealth, prefer to deal with the UK as part of the much larger EU market, he responded by saying he had recently returned from Egypt where he led a trade mission from Northern Ireland, securing lucrative contracts for Northern Ireland businesses.
I felt like shouting at the screen: “membership of the EU didn’t prevent you doing that, then!”
Also this week, Channel 4 News asked a random sample of English people to mark the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic on a map of the island. The results were astonishing, showing that most people have no idea that, for example, the most northern point of the island, Malin Head, is in the Republic. Britons frequently refer to Northerrn Ireland as “Ulster” – I used to do it myself but have carefully avoided doing so in this post. The fact is that the ancient Irish province of Ulster includes Donegal which is in the Republic, to the west of Northern Ireland.
But whilst this week’s controversy has been concentrated on the land border between the UK and the EU, and the implications for the Northern Ireland peace process of any reinstatement of a border between the two parts of the island of Ireland, no-one ought to lose sight of the UK’s east and south coasts with their many ports, from Aberdeen to Southampton, all of which handle traffic between the UK and continental Europe and all of which will need some degree of additional policing if the “best deal for Britain” that David Davis is so eager to achieve falls short of the existing arrangements. And then there are the 16 regional airports*, as well as Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead.
I am only an ordinary citizen, although I did once dabble in local politics and even stood as a candidate for the European parliament, but I cannot comprehend how anyone could imagine that any “deal” could be better than the one we already have. I make no apology for repeating again what I said before the referendum, here, and, afterwards, here, and have continued to say in the period since.
As this comprehensive Facebook post from Jon Danzig at Reasons2Remain makes clear, the months of uncertainty, negotiations, and costly preparations that the UK has been forced to endure, and will continue to endure through the proposed two year “transition period”, are utterly pointless if the deal that is struck at the end of the process looks anything like the one we already have. And, if it doesn’t, then businesses that rely on fast freight transfers between the UK and EU will be hampered and their customers, the citizens of Britain, will pay the price.
*For anyone interested the 16 are, in alphabetical order, Birmingham; Blackpool; Bournemouth; Bristol; Cardiff; East Midlands; Exeter; Humberside; Leeds Bradford; Liverpool; Luton; Manchester; Newcastle; Norwich; and Teesside.
Given that a key #Brexit topic of the moment is the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, I am resurrecting another old post.
On BBC Newsnight last night Kirsty Wark challenged Bertie Ahern to say that he and the present Taosiach, Leo Veradker, would welcome a hard border. Obviously he would not do so. No one in Ireland, or anywhere in the EU, wants a hard border. It is only the British government and the hard core of its EU hating citizens who seem incapable of understanding that you either have a hard border or no border.
The rationale of the decision to leave was that Britain wanted to control its borders. Logically that must include the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
But it goes deeper than that. If Britain exits the customs union it is not only the mainland border that will need to have custom controls installed. They will need to be installed at all the ports that serve routes between Britain and the EU. Dover is the busiest of these, but Southampton, Hull, Immingham, Felixstowe and, of course, Hollyhead are also important points of entry and exit. Wikipedia lists 70 major ports around the coast of England and Wales. And that is to ignore the many airports that serve air borne transport between Britain and the rest of Europe.
The BBC regularly points out the magnitude of the problems resulting from the referendum result, including that of policing all of these points of entry if Britain is to gain full control of her borders. The usual response from those who want #Brexit at any price is to call the BBC out for being too negative about the subject.
Others seem to believe that it will all come right in the end because the EU do not want to see the erection of trade barriers between the UK and the other 27 members. To which I ask the simple question: what is the point of spending two years negotiating the UK’s departure from the Single Market and the Customs Union in order to create a new relationship that replicates what has been negotiated away?
If it looks like a customs union and operates like a customs union then it bloody well IS a customs union and all that heartache, all those hours of bureaucrats’ time expended, the uncertainty disrupting British business, are a criminal waste when there are so many far more important problems the government and its employees ought to be tackling.