Staying in the EU Customs Union after exit

“The” Customs Union, “a” Customs Union, and aligning tariffs with the Customs Union

The idea of the UK staying in the European Union’s Customs Union after we exit from the EU has once again risen into political discourse.

This idea is expressed in different ways. One way is for the UK to stay “in” the European Union’s existing Customs Union. Another way is for the UK and the EU to join together to form “a” customs union between them. Quite what the practical difference is between these two formulae is not clear. A third way it is expressed is for the UK to maintain its external tariffs in alignment with EU tariffs. Vague suggestions are made that this might only be “partial”, ie covering some sectors of goods but not others.

But all these formulae come to the same thing. They all involve us giving up our right to set and decide the tariffs which are applied to goods entering the UK from the rest of the world. But it is not just about tariffs. Customs also operate a vast range of non-tariff controls on goods, all the way from health and other standards controls on food to, for example, safety of children’s toys. In order to operate any of the variously desribed schemes, the UK would also have to apply this vast range of EU mandated legislation as well.
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