How Tory or Labour government would negotiate our exit from the EU

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 7 Mar 2018

With the Brexit debate finally taking a new turn, Parliamentary Correspondent Patrick Daly asks what path is best for North Lincolnshire.

THE word “Brexit speech” fills most political reporters with dread.

Even watching them on the telly can’t disguise how dull the occasions often are and watching them live and in person tends to involve more effort than it’s worth. And what the cameras don’t show is the audience waiting around for the best part of an hour for the speech to even start. 

Add to the mix that no-one in Government nor the Labour Party has been much fond of saying anything new on the topic of Brexit of late, and you’ve got yourself a perfect storm for a poorly spent morning or afternoon.

Picture the scene then when Westminster journalists discovered there would be a speech every day for more than a week, with everyone from the Prime Minister to the Environment Secretary airing their thoughts on leaving the European Union – surely a form of torture not even Max Mosley would enjoy.

But Jeremy Corbyn and then Theresa May broke with their long-held tradition – the pair actually said something of note in their speeches which bookended the past week.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn responds to Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit statement.

Labour leader Mr Corbyn announced in Coventry that his party now supported the UK remaining in a customs union with the European Union after Brexit. The policy would ensure no import or export tariffs between UK businesses and the EU, the country’s largest market, after exit day.

Countries in a customs union agree to apply the same tariffs on goods being sold into the market and operate free trade between members.

Five days later, the PM may not have opted to change her policy but her speech saw her at her most frank and honest about the challenge the UK faces in the upcoming trade talks with Brussels.

“The reality is that we all need to face up to some hard facts,” the Conservative Party leader told those gathered at Mansion House in the City of London on Friday.

“We both need to face the fact that this is a negotiation and neither of us can have exactly what we want,” she said.

The outcome of the speeches meant, for the first time, there is a clear distinction between how a Tory and Labour government would negotiate Brexit.

Labour’s clamour to remain in a customs union would erase a great many of the trade headaches involved with the Government’s position and also ease fears about a hard border in Northern Ireland.

When asked this week, the PM said she agreed that Labour’s position was a “betrayal” of the opposition party’s leave voters because being part of a customs union was likely to, while securing continued free trade with Europe, make it more difficult for the UK to sign its own global free trade deals.

And there are plenty of Brexit Labour backers in Grimsby, a town which voted by 71 per cent to leave the EU and has elected a Labour MP at every General Election since 1945.

Melanie Onn, pictured left, Labour MP for Great Grimsby, said Mr Corbyn’s announcement would provide businesses, both in the region and across the UK, with reassurance about their ability to trade after Brexit.

Leaked impact reports estimate the Yorkshire and Humber economy would see a 5 per cent downturn if the UK leaves the single market and customs union and reverts to a free trade agreement with the EU.

Ms Onn said: “The concerns of local businesses about the lack of certainty in the Brexit negotiations, which could impact on imports and trade, have been well publicised. 

“The CBI and Institute of Directors have welcomed Labour’s commitment to give much-needed assurance by committing to a form of customs union.

“This would ensure that our businesses know, in advance of our exit date, the terms on which they will trade with other nations across Europe and prevent the re-emergence of a hard border between Northern and Republic of Ireland.

“I do not believe anyone in Grimsby voted leave to make themselves poorer or their work less secure. It is right that Labour acts to provide such reassurance to protect rights for workers and jobs,” said Ms Onn.

The local business “concerns” the Labour frontbencher mentions caused the seafood processing industry to come up with its own future-proofing plan to avoid the fallout of leaving the customs union.

As has been well-documented, the sector has argued for free ports to be established across the Humber, including at Immingham and Grimsby, in order to escape any possible incoming import and export tariffs on fresh goods.

Being part of a post-Brexit customs union would limit the benefits of free ports – although their establishment would make the Humber ports a more desirable landing spot for countries exporting from outside any future UK-EU customs union – but, with Government policy still to leave the current customs arrangement and the single market, Grimsby representatives have continued to lobby ministers about the concept.

Last week, Simon Dwyer, spokesman for the Grimsby Seafood and Humber cluster group, and Simon Bird, Humber director for Associated British Ports (which operates the ports of Immingham, Grimsby and Hull), met Brexit ministers in Westminster, alongside Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers.

They had conversations with Brexit Secretary David Davis’ junior team, including influential ministers Steve Baker and Suella Fernandes.

Tory MP Mr Vickers, pictured right, said the ministers indicated free ports was an option it wanted to “explore more fully post-Brexit”.

Mr Dwyer, Mr Bird and Mr Vickers are understood to have put the case to the pair that the Humber should be considered for a free ports pilot – a trial that Teesside is also pitching for.

“My argument is that if Teesside is pushing for having a pilot then I don’t want Immingham and Humber ports missing out,” said Mr Vickers.

“If there is a pilot study in Teesside then that risks transferring business from Immingham to Teesside.”

Mrs May’s speech on Friday was seen as a warning to some of the more ardent Brexit supporters in her party’s ranks – a number Mr Vickers is considered part of, having recently written to the PM criticising her plans for a transition period.

Mr Vickers said the PM’s speech was “aimed at the whole party” and had achieved its aims of unifying MPs.

“We all recognise, from the Rees-Moggs to the Soubrys, we are going through negotiations and both sides have to compromise in order to get a deal,” said the former Scartho councillor.

And Mr Vickers said the PM was correct to continue to dismiss talk of joining a customs union and instead embark on a global trade policy.

“The point I keep making in this is our intention to extend our trade access outside the EU, to growing economies in the Far East and South America and even some growing economies in Africa,” Mr Vickers said.

“There are vast opportunities beyond the EU and that is where some of our focus needs to be. We are not going to stop trading with the EU any more than they are going to stop trading with us.”

The political parties are at last starting to set-out their final position on Brexit – and it will soon be time for businesses and the rest of North Lincolnshire to speak-up about which of the paths it wishes to take.

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