Asa Bennett had an article put up on the Telegraph website yesterday afternoon entitled “Could Theresa May get away with a customs union climbdown?”For close watchers of all things Brexit, it is the first in what I imagine will be a long series of articles by Leave supporting pundits preparing the ground for Britain remaining in a customs union with the EU after leaving. As in, being in a customs union as an assumed permanent state of affairs. What’s the real difference between being in “the” Customs Union and being in “a” customs union with the EU again? Almost entirely semantics. The rules of engagement will be exactly the same: the EU sets external tariff barriers which the UK must adhere to.
I point this out as the latest in a series of articles, started in earnest soon after the general election last year, in which there is soft and slow “climbdown” to use Bennett’s own word around what kind of Brexit we’re going to get by the right of centre press. Remember a year ago when all the talk in places like the Mail and the Express was around paying no money to the EU, walking away from the table if Britain has to compromise on what it wants in any way, and that the whole thing would be “easy” and the UK held all the cards? By the end of this summer, there will be a denial in some quarters that leaving the customs union was ever an important issue; of course we were always going to remain in some sort of customs arrangement with the EU. Any other sort of talk is just from people who want Corbyn to be prime minister.
To answer Bennett’s headline question: of course May can get away with a customs union climbdown. The vast proportion of the Leave voting population do not give the slightly fluff about “global Britain”, or being able to strike new free trade deals. They either care about controlling immigration, sovereignty issues, or both. Being in a customs union will impact neither of these things, so ultimately will not raise hackles, whatever Nigel Farage and his ilk may attempt once it becomes clear this is what will happen. Eurosceptics inside the Conservative Party will ultimately go along with it too, however much they secretly dislike the idea. To try and disrupt proceeding at this stage risks Brexit being halted altogether (Bennett, to his credit, admits this much in his article), not to mention risking putting Corbyn in Number 10, so they will suck it up and vote for May’s deal.
Watch for all sorts of semantics-related fun this autumn. We won’t be staying in the Single Market – no, we’ll be entering into a unique arrangement with the EU called the Distinct Bazaar. Yes, if you look at the detail, it seems to be exactly like being in the Single Market, but there’s no need for that level of cynicism, people. Again, it’s like the entirely unique “Customs Connection” the UK will be entering into with the EU. Any talk that this is exactly like remaining in the EU only with all voting rights removed and paying £47 billion for the privilege is a nemesis of the populace.