The Customs Union continues to haunt the Prime Minister. This time, however, it’s the marked divisions within her party that are causing her pain.
The Brexit-supporting wing of the Conservative party are championing ‘Max-Fac’ – a customs proposal that will provide a solution to the Irish border problem by using technology to avoid a hard border. Those in the remain camp are proposing that Britain remains within the Customs Union, whilst May herself is proposing a middle ground solution: a ‘customs partnership’.
Let’s address these one by one.
Writing from the perspective of a consultancy engaged in large-scale digital transformation projects, we pose several questions to those supporting ‘Max-Fac’; what ‘technology’ will be used? And when was the last time a government technology programme of this size, scale and importance been designed, tested and implemented within the impossibly narrow time frame of two years?
We’re still scratching our heads.
Remaining within the customs union mitigates short term economic impacts, however, is politically difficult to carry out and, in many ways, does not fairly represent a majority vote to leave the EU. May’s option involves the maintenance of the status quo, however, it would involve Britain collecting taxes on behalf of the EU at the border.
In reality, this is very difficult to execute and places an enormous financial burden upon the UK, increasing the cost of doing business in both UK and EU markets.
A fourth way is emerging.
It is becoming widely believed that the UK will remain within the EU customs union and single market until a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) can be signed. Whilst this may be logical, it is unlikely that it will play particularly well with particular segments of the electorate and parliament.
Furthermore, this month, the House of Lords has been vilified by vocal Brexiters, for simply doing what it exists to do. Whilst it is understandable that the Lords’ repeated votes to require full parliamentary approval for all Brexit-related decisions may aggravate those that wish for the process to occur faster, the hard-Brexit wing of the Conservative party must remember that they have previously been some of the most vocal supporters of the status quo in the upper chamber, frequently voting to retain executive powers.
Now the Lords are voting to slow Brexit, ardent Brexiters are leading calls to reform the House and remove powers.
This makes nobody look good.