My views on our customs arrangements with the EU post Brexit in The Times today.
If you don’t have access to the Times website I have included my article below:
I was one of a number of MPs who met the Prime Minister in Downing Street this week to discuss the ongoing Brexit negotiations. I was struck by how complicated this seems to have become. As a Member of Parliament with a major port in my constituency I cannot be alone in thinking much of the technology we need already exists.
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, four fifths 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. The Secretary of State for Transport has already indicated the paramount importance of the smooth flow of goods at ports like Dover, where almost all trade is with the EU.
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.
Of course, we need to weigh up all the realities, including the Irish Border question, to ensure we are completely clear before making a final decision on the right path, whether that is, Customs Partnership, Maximum Facilitation (Max-Fac), or options yet to emerge. But it is the facts we need to get to grips with. Leaving the Customs Union will not mean chaos at the nation’s ports.