ON TUESDAY, June 12, Parliament will have to vote on the Lords’ amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill. The focus of these amendments is on remaining in the Customs Union or indeed the Single Market.
The UK voted to leave the EU and that is what we are doing. Those that voted to remain and would rather we stayed in the EU are not wrong, they are entitled to their opinion, but the tactics some of them are deploying to keep us in are underhand and undemocratic. They say there will be chaos, particularly at our ports if we leave the Customs Union.
In Southampton we know all about a successful port operation. The Port of Southampton is the UK’s number one export port, handling exports worth £40 billion every year; it is the UK’s number one automotive port; it is home to the nation’s second largest container terminal, not to mention the UK’s premier cruise port. Trade through the Port of Southampton flows smoothly and efficiently. And yet, 90% of that trade is with countries outside the European Union. How is this possible?
More than half the UK’s trade is with the rest of the world. Systems and technology are in place enabling the majority of goods from the rest of the world to be cleared on arrival in the UK, with public authorities able to identify consignments that need to be checked. At the Port of Southampton, this means only 1.3% of consignments arriving from the rest of the world are physically stopped for inspection. Of these, 80% are checked to enforce food and safety standards. Since our own food and safety standards are likely to remain aligned with the EU at least for the short to medium term there will be no need to implement similar checks on EU imports when we leave the Customs Union.
Therefore, it is reasonable to estimate that outside the Customs Union there will only be a requirement to stop and check up to 0.25% of EU imports. But that too is a choice that the UK Government can make. They will have to make a judgement about the balance between implementing checks for fiscal and customs purposes versus guaranteeing the smooth flow of cargo.
Project Fear 2.0 is on the march. And the facts about the realities and possibilities of using systems and technology to enable the efficient flow of trade across borders outside the Customs Union is one of these casualties. Ports like Southampton show trade outside the Customs Union can and does work. They also demonstrate how workable systems and technology can be introduced to accommodate trade with the EU when we are outside the Customs Union.
I voted to leave the EU and nothing anyone has said to me before the vote or since has made me question that decision. Next week I will be in Parliament to vote the Lords’ amendments down and get on with a successful Brexit.