There has been increased focus on the Brexit negotiations this week, and whether or not Britain should remain a member of either the European Single Market or the Customs Union, after we leave the European Union in March 2019. These discussions are of particular importance to everyone who lives and works in Kent, because we are the gateway for road and rail trade between the UK and continental Europe.
When the UK voted to leave the EU, it was expected that we would no longer come under the direct jurisdiction of the European institutions, and in particularly the Court of Justice. It was also understood that as a non-member state, the UK parliament would have the right to set its own laws on immigration, and the entitlement of people from other European Union countries to claim social security benefits in this country. In short, it is not possible to achieve this is we seek to remain a member of the European Single Market.
The debate about the Customs Union is more focused on trade. As a member of the Customs Union, we would have to accept the same trading status with countries outside of Europe, as the rest of the European Union does. If we did this, it would mean that we would not be able to negotiate our own separate trade deals with other countries. The government’s policy is that we should stay out of the Customs Union, so that we can arrange our own trading agreements, and we would also be free to cut the current tariffs on non-EU goods being imported to the UK.
There is another issue which particularly affects Kent, that we must make sure is resolved before we complete our Brexit negotiations. That is how to make sure that goods and people can move freely across the border without unnecessary delays for customs checking, whatever system of trade between the UK and the EU is agreed. The government has stated that it wants frictionless trade with Europe after we leave the EU. It should be possible to use technology to monitor and register the movement of goods across borders, and not to have to inspect lorries as they arrive and depart. People I have spoken to in the road haulage industry believe that this should certainly be achievable. It also means that we should continue with developing plans for the Operation Stack relief lorry park, which could also be made available to deal with queuing traffic on the M20 when there are delays, whatever the cause of them.
These are also matters of concern for our near neighbours in northern France, and it is important we engage with them, so that they in turn can try to persuade their government to support the right agreement between our two countries. As with all agreements, both sides are required to the same position. On Thursday this week, I am joining a meeting at the House of Commons with Xavier Bertrand, the President of the Regional Council of the Hauts-de-France region, which includes Lille, Amiens, Calais and Beauvais. We will also be joined by other politicians from Kent and northern France to discuss how we can make sure that managing cross Channel trade is treated as an issue of highest priority in the ongoing Brexit negotiations.