Over a year after the UK referendum result came out in favour of Brexit, and some months after Article 50 was triggered, it has often seemed that little or no progress has been made to clarify what any settlement might actually look like.
If you’re a sucker for punishment, you can read, mark and inwardly digest the full paper from HM government here.
The government says of the proposal: “As we leave the European Union and therefore the EU Customs Union, the Government seeks a new customs arrangement that facilitates the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods between the UK and the EU, and allows the UK to forge new trade relationships with its partners in Europe and around the world. This paper details the Government’s aspirations for the UK’s future customs arrangements.”
The word that troubles most is “aspiration”. And, indeed the proposal has been met with a fairly incredulous response from EU figures and some national governments. The idea is that post the Brexit deadline in March of 2019 that the UK can continue to enjoy free movement of goods for a subsequent two years, whilst also getting the right to pursue trade deals with other countries too (which is not currently permitted to EU nations). It’s a bit of a have cake and eat it suggestion but it does make sense from a business and ecommerce perspective.
A hard Brexit where free movement of goods has to stop post March 2019 would be obviously negative to any UK business trading within the EU bloc. And with the UK being a key consumer market, it’s not attractive to EU merchants either selling to the UK. The free movement of goods from an ecommerce perspective has to be a good thing, even if Brexit means Brexit. Two more years of certainty, part of this proposal, is a good thing.
Another aspect of the proposal which is of particular value and importance to merchants in the UK and Ireland is complete clarity that the UK wants a tariff free and fluid movement of people and goods across the only UK land border. That’s an idea to be welcomed too. The UK and Ireland are key trading partners and a closed border for goods and people would have a very real negative business impact.