Quitting the European Union’s customs union could see Britain become a “beacon of global free trade” and create nearly 400,000 jobs, an analysis based on EU figures has shown.
The Brexit pressure group Change Britain has released analysis showing that, according to the European Commission’s own figures, leaving the customs union and forging free trade deals with just eight countries and trading blocs would benefit the British economy to the tune of nearly £20 billion in extra exports.
In addition, 387,580 jobs would likely be created. And although the majority of those would be in London and the South East, a substantial proportion would go to the regions, with the East of England picking up 33,000 jobs and the North West a likely further 36,000.
The report is something of a shot across the government’s bows from leading Brexiteers as it considers its negotiating position ahead of negotiations with the EU. There are concerns that the government will try to keep Britain within the customs union.
Although the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has previously said that Britain will “probably” have to leave the union, which sees tariffs on imports and exports set at an EU level, his comments were played down by Downing Street.
Michael Gove, the former justice secretary and a founding supporter of Change Britain, said: “The UK has a prosperous future ahead of us if we leave the EU’s customs union and become a beacon of global free trade.
“As we strike new trade deals with the growing economies of the 21st century, it will create hundreds of thousands of jobs right across the country, strengthening communities throughout the UK and ensuring that everyone feels the benefits of economic growth.
“But in order to achieve this we must take back control of our trade policy. Only then can we realise the full potential of this great trading nation.”
Six of the eight countries or trading blocs identified in the European Commission’s numbers used in Change Britain’s analysis have already indicated that they would be willing to strike deals with the United Kingdom once it is outside the EU. They include America, India, China, and the South American Mercosur trading bloc (which includes Argentina and Brazil), among others.
Only Japan and the ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) bloc have so far not indicated concrete willingness to strike a deal, although ASEAN has indicated that it might be an option for the future. Even excluding those regions, Change Britain calculates that in excess of 240,000 jobs could be created through trade deals with the remaining six regions.
Lord Digby Jones of Birmingham, a former trade minister under Gordon Brown and fellow founding supporter, added: “The UK has a rich history as a great trading nation. It is therefore no surprise that a number of major economies have already expressed an interest in striking free trade agreements with us.
“The only way we can make the most of these huge opportunities is to leave the EU’s customs union and take back control of our trade policy. This will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in a range of industries right across the UK.
“We can then take our place as one of the global champions of free trade.”
The campaign, chaired by leading Brexit campaigner and Labour MP Gisela Stuart, has drawn support from across the political spectrum. Founding supporters include former Conservative chancellor Lord Lawson, and former Labour foreign secretary Lord Owen, among others.