April 2018: Customs Union Crunch Time

Chaucer / Chaucer Viewpoints  / April 2018: Customs Union Crunch Time

The customs union is beginning to pose difficult questions for the Prime Minister.

This week, Number 10 reaffirmed their commitment to leaving ‘the’ customs union and not replacing this arrangement with ‘a’ customs union.

To complicate the problem, the House of Lords voted for amendments to the withdrawal bill that would force the government to negotiate ‘a’ customs union if enacted. The amendment will be put before the Commons in May. This issue must be viewed through several lenses, as must most Brexit related concerns.

Firstly, it is a political issue. Secondly, it is an issue of doing what will yield the best
outcome for those involved. Precedent would dictate that Brexit-related issues are very rarely viewed through both lenses at once. This quandary is neatly summarised by the voting motivations of the House of Commons.

For Labour, voting down the customs union would create problems for the government, as the vote has been made an issue of confidence and enough Tories are willing to vote against the whip. It would be unprecedented for the opposition to miss such an opportunity to derail a government on the ropes.

The key point here is that the majority of May’s party supports Brexit. However, in light of the botched 2017 election, the majority of the Commons do not. Yet, Conservative rebels face a difficult dilemma in voting down the customs union, they are likely to topple their leader if they do so.

Handing power to Corbyn’s Labour Party at this stage in the process could have severely compromising policy consequences for Conservative MP’s. They believe that Corbyn and Brexit are both poor outcomes for the British people.

For the anti-Brexit Tories, a Labour government reduces their capability to rebel. Like the Conservative government, Labour have repeatedly committed to a hard Brexit, meaning that Tories intent on softening the process would be giving up their ability to shape the final deal from within the governing party.

The election of Corbyn and McDonnell would also reduce restored business confidence, causing disruption to the pound and reducing unexpectedly high levels of foreign direct investment. The defeat of the bill rests upon the shoulders of the Tory rebels. It is a difficult dilemma – they must decide between the economic risks of a Labour Government and those arising from no customs union.

They’ve rebelled once, but will they do so again?

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