UK’s Johnson slaps business lobby for EU customs call

"Brexit means taking controls of laws, borders, money, and trade," tweeted Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, pictured on January 11, 2018
AFP

London (AFP) – Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pushed back Sunday at calls from Britain’s biggest business lobby group for the country to stay in the European customs union after Brexit.

The Confederation of British Industry has said remaining in the customs union after the UK leaves the EU would be a “practical, real-world answer” to its profound challenges.

Hitting back on Twitter, Johnson said it made “no sense” for the CBI to keep calling for Britain to be part of the customs bloc.

He added Prime Minister Theresa May had been clear in her keynote speech in Florence, Italy in September that Britain would be leaving both the EU single market and customs union.

He cited the part of May’s speech in which she said Britain could not stay in either grouping because Brussels had made it clear that the country could not be members and limit immigration from the EU.

The bloc’s freedom of movement rules were a major factor in Britain’s referendum decision in favour of leaving.

“Brexit means taking control of laws, borders, money, and trade. I’m confident British business can profit from the new opportunities,” Johnson wrote.

“Staying in the customs union means effectively staying in the EU: the EU is a customs union. It means no new free trade deals, no new export opportunities, and no leading role in the WTO (World Trade Organization).”

– ‘right ambition’ –

In a speech on Monday, CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn is expected to set out why the group believes a post-Brexit customs union is best for British business.

She will say time is running out and businesses urgently need decisions to protect British jobs and growth, according to extracts released Sunday.

The business lobby head is set to say there has been “too much ideology, too little urgency” — in both Brussels and London.

Fairbairn is expected to argue that the question of whether Britain is leaving the EU has been resolved and the overriding goal now is to secure a good outcome.

She will say it requires a profound change of approach, with more reliance on facts and evidence than ideological positions.

The CBI leader will stress that replicating the EU’s trade deal with Canada is an “ocean away” from what is needed, and that while its Norway deal would provide market access, Britain would need greater control.

Unless and until a working alternative is found, “a customs union is part of a practical, real-world answer”.

“Of course, we’d need to negotiate a good customs deal…but it’s the right ambition, with a strong business case to back it up,” Fairbairn will add. 

“Remaining a member of a customs union for as long as it serves us to do so is consistent with the result of the referendum, and would be good for EU firms too.”

Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019.

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