The UK government has stated that Britain will be leaving the customs union when it exits the EU in March 2019.
“It is not our policy to be in the customs union,” said an official Downing Street source. “It is not our policy to be in a customs union.”
This followed mixed signals from cabinet members, who have been referring to a “customs arrangement” rather than a union. Home secretary Amber Rudd stated that prime minister Theresa May “has an open mind” to such an arrangement, while housing minister Dominic Raab told Sky News, “I do not think that we will be in any form, at least as conceived in international trade practice, of customs union…”
The UK’s relationship with the EU single market has been a subject of much debate throughout the Brexit negotiations, and has proved divisive within the ruling Tory party. As part of the union, the UK currently enjoys tariff-free trade, but is not able to strike independent deals with other countries.
Suggestions for alternative trade models have included a Norway-style option, in which the country would have access to the European Economic Area without being an official EU member. Norway does not have to pay customs tariffs for the most part but must implement EU law regarding the internal market, which accounts for three quarters of all EU law, while having no say over the drafting of legislation.
The UK government sought to clarify their position amidst conflict between party factions, but the Labour chair of the Brexit committee, Hilary Benn, still perceives a lack of resolution. “I think the government is in a state of open disagreement,” he told BBC Radio 4. “The prime minister has been immobilised. We’re 19 months since the referendum … and we still don’t know what it is we want.”
Theresa May and Brexit secretary David Davis are due to meet Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, again later today.