Australia: Staying in EU Customs Union Would Turn Britain into ‘Irrelevant, Humiliated Dependency’

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The Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom has warned that staying in the EU’s Customs Union after Brexit would render Britain “irrelevant”.

“For us in the outside world, Britain would become, at least in economic terms, irrelevant to international diplomacy,” explained Alexander Downer.

“You would be better off remaining within the EU or being completely out of it in every way than leaving yourselves in such a position of weakness and irrelevancy. It would be humiliating for a once-great country to end up by being little more than a dependency of the European Union.”

The High Commissioner — the Commonwealth equivalent of an ambassador — told the Policy Exchange think tank he was “surprised that there is any debate at all” about remaining in the Customs Union.

Countries within the Customs Union and subject to the EU’s Common Commerical Policy are cannot sign their own trade agreements, with trade policy being managed by Brussels.

This has held Britain back from striking deals with its old allies in countries like Australia and New Zealand for decades, and saw Australian beef and New Zealand butter largely displaced by more expensive EU produce when the country first joined the EU, then known as the EEC, and began applying the bloc’s external tariffs.

This caused substantial damage to the diplomatic and economic relationship between the United Kingdom and its former colonies, and saw many of them reorient towards Asia.

Mr. Downer has previously slammed the EU for its Common Agricultural Policy as well, describing it as “hugely damaging to global agriculture” and pointing out that it has done “far more harm than good”.

Prospects for a swift trade agreement between Britain and Australia after Brexit — provided Theresa May does not leave Britain’s trade policy in the hands of the European Union — are extremely bright.

Australian trade minister Steve Ciob is keen to begin negotiations on “day one” of Brexit, with the aim of having a “high-quality trade agreement ready to go essentially on January 1, 2021”, when the mooted ‘transition deal’ between Britain and Brussels is supposed to expire.

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