The UK can do better than the EU’s Customs Union



City must avoid complacency & embrace flexibility to prosper post-Brexit

Economic Affairs

Remaining in a customs union could be backdoor to keeping many obligations of the Single Market

  • Like most decisions about Brexit, the choice of future customs arrangements is about getting the trade-offs right. Remaining in a customs union with the EU would not just prevent disruptive border checks. It would also allow tariff-free trade to continue after the UK left the Single Market, and could make it easier to replicate the EU’s existing trade deals with third countries. These benefits should not be dismissed lightly.

  • Nonetheless, securing these benefits via a full customs union would come at a significant cost. This option would prevent the UK from making the most of the opportunities to reduce barriers to trade with the rest of the world, whether by signing new deals or simply lowering these barriers unilaterally.

  • What’s more, a full customs union is not the only option. The UK could keep any additional trade frictions with the EU to a minimum with a new and comprehensive free trade agreement, including alternative customs arrangements. There may still be a case for a time-limited extension of the current customs union, perhaps for goods only, during a transition period. However, it is far too soon to conclude that this is the best solution for the longer term, especially as talks about the future relationship haven’t even begun.

Author Julian Jessop wrote for The Telegraph on this report

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Julian Jessop is an independent economist with over thirty years of experience gained in the public sector, City and consultancy, including senior positions at HM Treasury, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Capital Economics. He was Chief Economist and Head of the Brexit Unit at the IEA until December 2018 and continues to support our work, especially schools outreach, on a pro bono basis.