I have been exchanging tweets with my regular sparring partner Professor Michael Merrifield of Nottingham University, and blow me down, he has scored a point! I have been arguing that if the UK were to remain in the EU’s Customs Union after Brexit (a contradiction in terms in my view), we should be precluded from making free trade deals (FTAs) with third countries – which is one of the key objectives of Brexit.
I was surprised when the good professor insisted that countries within the Customs Union could conclude FTAs elsewhere, and cited Turkey as an example. And guess what – he seems to be right. This of course begs the question “If Turkey, then why not the UK?”. So I have put the issue, in the form of a Written Question, to the European Commission.
Two provisos. First, Turkey’s ‘membership’ of the Customs Union is limited – for example, it excludes agriculture.
Secondly, let me be absolutely clear. I regard the Customs Union model as hopelessly antiquated, dysfunctional and inefficient. It is a 19th Century concept based on Bismarck’s Zollverein. No other such customs union exists between advanced economies. It has been replaced elsewhere by the free trade area, a much more efficient model for trade. It raises costs for imports and it especially disadvantages the UK, which as a global trading nation has a higher proportion of its imports from outside the EU, incurring the Common External Tariff.
So I absolutely oppose any attempt to remain in the EU’s Customs Union, or Single Market, after Brexit. Nonetheless, I put the following question to the Commission to clarify the technical point and to allow me to respond authoritatively to the good Professor.
Turkey Free Trade Agreements
I should like to raise with the Commission a question put to me by a constituent, Professor Michael Merrifield of Nottingham University.
We in the UK understand that membership of the EU’s Customs Union precludes us from entering into free trade deals with non-EU countries. This has been an important issue raised in the context of Brexit.
Yet we read on the Commission’s web-site that Turkey is a member of the EU’s Customs Union, but has also concluded free trade deals with a large number of countries, most of which appear to be in the euro-med area.
Is this in fact the case?
Were the other Turkish FTAs entered into before or after Turkey joined the EU’s Customs Union?
If Turkey as a member of the EU’s Customs Union is able to conclude FTAs with third countries, why is the UK not able to do likewise?
After Brexit, could the option be open to the UK of remaining in the EU’s Customs Union while concluding FTAs with third countries?
I repeat, for the avoidance of doubt, I do not want the UK to remain in the EU Customs Union or Single Market. I just want to understand the rules.