Since the referendum, Brexit fatigue has set in as the minutiae of our withdrawal agreement are negotiated. Like many, I wish we could move on to our future relationship with the EU to ensure we are free to take advantage of the global opportunities available to the UK.
Brexit negotiations have become too complicated. Southampton is a major trading port and I am not alone in thinking much of the technology we need already exists. Last week I hosted the the foreign affairs committee on a visit to Southampton, so that they could see for themselves how the port operates.
They saw that we do not need to over complicate future arrangements to ensure our ports continue to operate smoothly. More than half the UK’s trade is with the rest of the world and 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 and 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 per cent of that trade is with countries outside the European Union.
The 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. This means only 1.3 per cent 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, the need to implement similar checks on EU imports when we leave the customs union has been overstated.
It will be for the government to make a judgement about the balance between implementing checks for fiscal and customs purposes versus guaranteeing the smooth flow of cargo.
The transport secretary has already indicated the paramount importance of the smooth flow of goods at ports like Dover, where almost all trade is with the EU.
I am confident that the UK can have a prosperous future outside the EU. There are enormous possibilities and leaving the customs union will not mean chaos at the nation’s ports. We need a basic free trade agreement for goods and services with the EU with freedom to control our own regulations and trade as an independent nation (like most of the world outside the EU), modelled on “best in class” deals worldwide such as Canada, South Korea and Japan. The legal text for such a deal is ready to go within DExEU.
The Brexit prize is ambitious. New and lucrative long term free trade deals with countries like China, India and the United States – as well as the Commonwealth are within our grasp. Full control of our borders with the end of free movement of people replaced with an efficient and balanced framework focused on our economic needs.
We can continue to argue about the result of the 2016 referendum or we can seize the opportunity Brexit gives us and once again become the independent global trading nation we know we can be.