The Instigator
Pro (for)
The Contender
Con (against)

The UK should remain a member of the Customs Union

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Can_o_worms has forfeited round #3.
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/12/2018 Category: Politics
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 496 times Debate No: 115491
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
Votes (0)




Brexit means Brexit and it will happen. This is not an attempt to curb the will of the people. However, the European Union is not equivalent to the single market and customs union. They are, undeniably, related but separate bodies. Therefore, considering leaving the EU only was on the ballot paper on June 23rd 2016, it is disingenuous to decide on behalf of the people that they must have also meant leaving the single market and customs union. Given that the margin of the vote was only very small, it seems even more undemocratic for Theresa May's government to take us out of the single market without mandate nor consent.

Furthermore, the success of Labour in the 2017 general election has revealed that many do support their position on Brexit: a jobs first, living-standards first (and customs union ) option. Therefore, it seems that many would support this position. We also have a more recently elected parliament (house of commons) which we have put our trust in to carry out our will to the fairest, best and closest standard possible. Therefore, considering that the government has suffered a wave of defeats over this, (including from their own MPs) they should wake up and realise that although we are leaving the EU there is debate over how we do it. This was never on the ballot paper.

I am not advocating Athenian democracy. In the words of Margaret Thatcher: "NO NO NO!" I am advocating representative democracy based upon roughly what most people want. Now, the key reasons people cited for voting leave were immigration concerns, sovereignty and redirecting Britain's global position. None of these are violated by remaining a member of the customs union. However, given immigration was a concern remaining a member of the single market would not be fair on the voters. We can have control of immigration and have a sovereign parliament if we stay in the customs union.

Most of all, not remaining a member of the customs union would severely hurt our economy leading to the suffering of hard working people many of whom happened to vote to Leave. The amount of money companies would lose merely due to customs declarations would surely drive investment away and lead to more expensive imports for British consumers. The only downside of remaining a member of the customs union is that the EU supreme court would still have jurisdiction. But so what? We support most of their decisions to not import things like chlorinated chicken. Their jurisdiction doesn't matter because it will never stop us from doing what we normally do.

Overall, we should remain a member of the customs union because it is in line with what people voted for on the 23rd of June and it makes sense to empower our economy and our democracy.

Looking forward to discuss this with a worthy opponent.


I will start off by summarising your main points, to make sure that I am not debating a straw man. Feel free to correct me on any or all points.

You believe that since the referendum was simply on whether or not Britain should leave the customs union, it is therefore incorrect to assume that the public also wants to leave the single market and customs union.
You believe that this is further compounded by the fact that the margin of vote was small, and therefore you think it is likely that more votes would land on remaining within the customs union than leaving it.
You believe that since much of the debate depended on immigration, leaving the single market is justified, but leaving the customs union would be an unnecessary burden on the British economy.

Again please let me know if I have misinterpreted any of your point, although I find that hard to believe given your well written opening argument.

I will start off my rebuttal by discussing how valid leaving the customs union and single market simply based on the referendum is.
First of all, I agree that we cannot determine what voters would have voted for if the referendum had been on whether or not we should leave the single market, however assuming that they would have voted to remain in the single market is just as flawed as assuming the opposite. In fact I think that the opposite is actually more likely, that if now we had a referendum on how the United Kingdom should leave the EU, leaving entirely or remaining in the single market and customs union, they would vote to leave entirely.
I believe this is true by looking at the affected groups on both side. On the remain side, one huge point is that, outside of the EU Britain would lose nearly all of its influence on the world stage, becoming a political backwater. It is clear then that leaving the EU, and therefore removing the UK voting rights, and yet remaining in the single market, may not sit well with them, since now they no longer have political influence over the EU, and yet still must obey its laws.
On the leave side, the only large group that I could think of that would benefit more from remaining in the single market rather than the EU are fishermen, since they get many exemptions in EU law in Norway for example, in return for wavering their voting rights. However, as you correctly mentioned, one of the biggest issues in the Brexit debate was immigration, which would be completely nullified if we were to remain in the single market.
As such, and since not all UK fishermen will have been swayed simply by fishing exemptions, I agree with you that Britain should leave the single market as well.

However, I do not think that remaining in the customs union, in order to prevent damage to the British economy, is a very satisfactory solution. This is because it is essentially the worst of both worlds. We do not gain the ability to set our own tariffs, and are prevented from pursuing free trade with the rest of the world due to the common external tariffs policy, yet we still lose access to the single market, which means loss of 39% of our exports to the EU in the form of services.
This means that whilst we do retain relativity frictionless trade with the EU, we lose any ability to make any real trade agreements with the rest of the world. This would be far worse for the UK economy than raising the expense of EU imports to UK by a marginal amount due to customs checks on products.
Let us not forget the fact that the one thing that all economists agree on are the benefits of free trade between nations. By remaining within the customs union, we are essentially tying ourselves to a trade block, that really operates as a large protectionist nation. At this point in time, the entire EU has a smaller GDP than the United States, and yet protectionist tariffs and regulation passed by the EU are forgotten about. Do we really want to tie ourselves to a trade block which encompasses a mere 17% of the global GDP and is declining in relative influence every day and shun our other allies and the rest of the world in order to retain just a mere fraction of the market access that we have now? I think not.

In conclusion, whilst I agree with you that the UK must leave the single market in order to comply with what the voters likely intended, I think that remaining in the customs union would not be ideal, since it does not keep us with the same EU access that we have now, and yet it removes any potential for free trade with the rest of the world.

I look forward to your rebuttal.
Debate Round No. 1


Thanks for your response.

To clarify my stance:I think it was an error in your typing but you said that: "You believe that since the referendum was simply on whether or not Britain should leave the customs union". Just to clarify, I said that the referendum was only about leaving the EU not about the customs union or single market. This is undeniably true. They are 3 separate institutions. Again, I also think that the fact it was a marginal vote and for every 14 leavers there were 13 remainers means that politicians need to be aware there is immense spectrum of opinion. To clear up your second interpretation, I have absolutely no idea how people would have voted if they were told it was going to be a hard brexit but what is true is that many people who voted leave did not want a hard brexit at the time. Therefore we have to be aware that there is no justifiable mandate from the British people to have a hard brexit. All we know is that overall most people want Breixt to happen and we absolutely must carry this out. Your spot on with my last point. I believe, based on the overwhelming body of economic evidence, that we would be better off staying in the customs union. Leaving it would put an unnecessary strain on the economy. You are also right that I believe that most of the debate was about immigration and therefore in order to end free movement we must leave the single market but not necessarily the customs union.

Ok now onto my actual response. You are right that we cannot determine exactly what people voted for. Ultimately, our (more recently elected than the referendum btw) representatives in parliament must make an accurate interpretation of what public opinion is. You are right that assuming people would have voted remain if they had been offered a hard brexit is flawed. This is exactly my point. My point is that we cannot be absolutely sure what people want. Therefore, we have to put our fingers on the pulse of society and see what most people want from leaving the EU - immigration control and sovereignty. You then mentioned that if we had a vote now people would just say let's get on with it and leave the customs union. I think this would be more due to the fact that people may see this as sabotaging brexit and may be part of the "brexit means brexit" narrative than the actual issue. I point towards the recent success of Labour. They promised a softer brexit. There is public support for this. We have to respect that many people didn't want Brexit at all and ultimately a compromise must take place. There is no mandate for a hard brexit and neither is there for a soft brexit so we need to decide what direction people want the country to go in and what does the economy need. I have no need to respond to your points on the single market. I agree with you on that entirely.

Next the economy. You are right in the sense that remaining in the customs union does not solve all the economic problems of brexit however it is much more satisfactory than jumping off a cliff edge which is what seems to be happening. Alongside a free trade deal which I believe we will get the customs union is crucial to the overall deal because a free trade deal alone still leaves our european trade very vulnerable. Businesses tell us every day that their companies will be harmed if we do not stay in the customs union. Outside the union means more waiting time, more transport costs and more customs declarations cost. UK business will become uncompetitive if we leave the customs union. Next you argue that we do not get the ability to set our own tariffs. This is true but why is that a problem. Most of the tariffs that the EU currently imposes are satisfactory for our economy. Furthermore, we are allies with the EU. What is wrong with having an integrated trade policy that suits us? Would we not imposes tariffs on Russia and China anyway? Do we really want chlorinated chicken? You then mentioned that we wouldn't be able to negotiate free trade deals with other nations. Why does that matter? Who are we actually going to be negotiating with? The reality is that it is much more attractive to do business with the EU than the UK alone. Therefore, let's stay close to the EU thus allowing us to reap the benefits of trade deals that they negotiate. Furthermore, the EU has a much more powerful negotiating stance when dealing with India, China and the USA than we would as a small economic unit therefore the terms of their agreements are likely to be more beneficial. Finally, I am confident that with a free trade agreement we will not gain the worst of both worlds as we will not lose 44% of our global trade. Overall, the EU are our real allies and best trade partners. Our economic future is crucially tied to Europe and remaining in the customs union alongside a trade agreement means we keep this crucial market open while allowing us have a strong negotiating stance when doing business with new countries. The reality is that post brexit is not going to be the good old days "trade deals all over the world" world that UKIP like to pedal. We are a small country who is tied to the EU so let's make sure we keep that relationship strong. Also 17% of global GDP is massive and considering that in order to eclipse that we would need to sign literally loads of new deals I think we need to get real and stick with the full course meal we already have rather than the bag of crisps offered by Bojo.

In conclusion, there is no mandate to leave the customs union specifically so we must decide what makes sense for the economy and how we can appease roughly what the public wants. People want more devolution and sovereignty and immigration control. All of this can be achieved in the customs union whilst also protecting our economy.

On a side note, this new deal which we negotiate will be judged for years to come so let's make sure its a good one if not I can't see the UK lasting much longer.

I look forward to your response


I would like to start my rebuttal by thanking you for that opening correct; the line should have read "You believe that since the referendum was simply on whether or not Britain should leave the EU".

That out of the way, the reason I posted why I thought it was more likely for the British people to vote for leaving the customs union and single market, given the chance, wasn't because I was attempting to use it as a reason, but rather in response to your assertion that the margin of the vote was small and therefore it is more undemocratic to take us out of the single market, as well as comments of the success of Labour. I think you will agree that we can't make decisions based on speculation for what the people would "probably" want, since without another referendum on the customs union, we simply don't know.
As such, unless there is another referendum, which there won't be (this is the United Kingdom, not Switzerland), we should drop any argument of mandate for staying within the customs union or for leaving it, since there is none. As such we should focus on the actual benefits and costs of the customs union.

Now for the response to what I believe is the main body of your argument, the economics.
First, you are right in that trade with the EU would be damaged if the left the customs union. This is without question since, even with a comprehensive trade deal, businesses wishing to trade with the EU would have to enter through customs which would cause additional cost due to delays and service costs. However the point remains that we would not be able to set, or rather remove, our own tariffs.

You state the businesses tell us that their companies will be damaged by customs declarations, and would become uncompetitive. This is certainly true for those businesses, but not due to any intrinsic economic reliance on the EU. Let us remember that these companies are the companies that have been built up within the EEC for the last 45 and so of course their businesses will be affected severely, but that doesn't mean that British businesses will become uncompetitive in the long term. In addition your statement that the we would lose 44% of our global trade due to EU customs is clearly hyperbolic, since 56% of our trade is with countries that we neither share free trade agreements nor a customs union.

I will now tackle your statements questioning the value of free trade with the rest of the world, including your statements of EU tariffs being "satisfactory" and your statements of the EU's own economic strength.
First of all, by stating that EU tariffs are satisfactory for our needs. Even ignoring the fact that it shouldn't be up to foreign powers who we trade with, especially when a huge part of the debate was on sovereignty, this is a clearly ridiculous given the tariffs on everyday goods from other UK allies. For example did you know that the EU raises 20-40% tariffs on meat produce from Australia, check for yourself:
Do you really think that raising tariffs of 20-40% of close UK allies is somehow satisfactory? Why should British consumers and Australian farmers have to lose out because the EC wants to "protect" French farmers.
As for the EU's economic strength, 17% is obviously a very significant amount, but 83% is more. Why should we lose out on the vast majority of the global economy, for slightly greater access to less than a fifth of it, especially when that proportion is becoming smaller as the rest of the world catch up to the EU. Also, your point on the number of trade deals required to be signed is mute, even without remembering that the US has a higher GDP than the EU alone, leaving the customs union is a long term decision, and we shouldn't base that decision on potential short term difficulties.

Finally, I will combat the notion that outside the EU we would lose negotiating power in trade agreements, and that we would be better off letting the EU deal with those agreements for us.
The first of these points is made ridiculous by both logical sense and with specific evidence to the contrary. Trade is not a matter where one side wins, it benefits everyone and gets everyone lower prices. The main reason trade deals are put in place is so that one side can't just isolate their economy out of the blue, for political reasons. As such, it makes no sense why a larger country would not still want to make a deal with a smaller country. This idea is backed up by many very small countries which still manage to have made many trade deals, such as:
New Zealand
All three of these countries have less than 1/3 the GDP of the UK.
Finally, the notion that the EU would sign trade agreements for us is also quickly disproven by the EU's slow adoption of free trade agreements, even with countries with close ties to the EU. The poster child of this is the EU free trade deal with Canada, one of the EU's closest allies, was only put into effect in late 2017, and yet had been negotiated since 2008, discussed openly since 2004, and first proposed in the 1990s May I remind you that the EU still doesn't have a free trade agreement with Australia or the US.

To conclude, the EU is shrinking in economic influence, it is highly protectionist, even against allies, and the benefits of free trade with the rest of the world would far out weigh any benefits gained from customs free access to the EU.
(I am at the character limit.)

I look forward to your rebuttal.
Debate Round No. 2


I'm glad to hear that you have come to the conclusion that we cannot judge what people actually want over the customs union. My original point was that there is diversity of opinion and that there is no mandate to take us out. That doesn't mean that there is a mandate to stay but that one cannot stay we voted to leave the customs union. My point still stands. So really this debate rests on who can prove that remaining in the customs union is good for our economy since we consider that we have no idea what the general public would want.

You clearly want (and rightly so) to make this an economics debate. If so then I'm afraid you have a really tough case to prove. Despite the calls from major businesses such as Innocent Drinks, Nissan, Rolls Royce and major economic authorities such as the IMF, the World Bank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Brexit Committee and the civil service all arguing that we are better off in the customs union there are many other blindingly obvious reasons for why you would want to stay in that union. Let's face it: the Leave campaign knew that their economic argument was weak and that the Economic argument to remain was much stronger. That's why Leave made it all about immigration. The customs union, although not the same as the EU membership, is along the same lines. The economic difficulties are similar.

The reality is that customs declarations costs are a real pain in the backside for companies wanting to trade abroad. Just look at this great article from the impartial and highly respected - Institute for Fiscal Studies:

It will cost, according to the EU's own economic affairs committee "25 billion a year to our economy. That will end up hitting our wages and our living standards, our schools and our hospitals. This is no mild threat. The reality is that British people will suffer if we leave.

Your alternative is far less tangible than the solid and reliable status quo. We heard about tariffs and that setting our own tariffs is advantageous. Firstly, I would generally agree. However, our economy is similar to the European economy. Furthermore, we are allies and have the same interests. When Germany and France put tariffs on Russia over Ukraine the UK does too. We don't need a different tariff strategy because our interests are so similar. It makes absolutely no sense in this case. British people don't want chlorinated chicken. The same goes for other Europeans. Why should we adopt a different customs standard?

Next you mentioned the idea of signing ambitious new trade deals. You argued that other small countries have made good deals and that this means we can to. It is true that small countries have made good trade deals. Firstly, 3 examples of this is not evidence of a trend. Secondly, look at the small print of those deals. The reality is that Switzerland and Iceland and others like them have had to make huge concessions to their bigger partners. I point you to our attempts at a deal with India. What do the Indians want? : more concessions over immigration. It is undeniable that negotiating a part of the EU is a much stronger position. The EU can stand up to the likes of Trump over a trade deal. Poor old Mrs May doesn't stand a chance. The terms would be bad for us. The EU also does have very good agreements with the USA and China. If I was Xi Xingping I'd much rather sell my products to a market of well over 500 000 000 than 65 000 000. Furthermore, the EU is right on our doorstep and not half way across the world like Australia is. Europe is so much more important to our economy than Australia would ever be. Yes of course 17% is less than 83% but we will not get good deals with all 83% whereas we have a fantastic deal with 17%.

Now saying that damaging 44% percent of our trade is hyperbolic is really silly. 44% is absolutely huge in trade terms. And don't take my word for it. Just read what any economic institute has to say. Furthermore, a lot of our trade with the other 56% relies heavily on our access to the 44%. You wonder why the economy grew so well in the 1980s. One reason was that The City of London became a trading hub for the Asian and American markets who wanted access to Europe. The Uk's trade with non-european countries is often based on the fact they want to sell to Europe and go through a nice English speaking country. Even on its own 44% is crucial (it's almost half after all) and added on to my previous point it is even more important that we protect that trade we already have.

In conclusion, the European Union is absolutely crucial to the success of our economy. It's constitutes much of our trade and is our nearest and dearest market. We therefore need to prioritise it. The reality is that leaving the Customs Union will heavily damage our trade with both the EU and the EEA (which includes EVEN MORE PEOPLE). Therefore, we need to make sure we stay in the Customs Union. The downside of this is that we will have less tariff control. However, since we have such similar interests and this has never been a major problem this isn't a major downside. This Brexiteer fairy land of glorious trade deals all over the world is nonsense. We know that smaller countries get poorer trade terms and that the EU is a much better market to get access to for rising economies like China. Therefore, let's stay in the Customs Union to make sure we get access to the much better deals that they can negotiate on our behalf. Rees Mogg and others like him take this position not for the sake of hardworking British people who he knows will be damaged by leaving the Customs Union but because he favours an offshore tax haven capitalist paradise. In the real world, it will be one of fewer jobs, lower living standards, poorer public services and yet more poverty (as if there isn't already enough).

Don't let's order a pizza thinking it'll be great and then it arrives covered in pigeon poo but we eat it anyway.
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Debate Round No. 3
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Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by LoveRichardDawkins 3 years ago
I mean if you can work out how to then sure but I think we"re unable to continue
Posted by Can_o_worms 3 years ago
I finished my last exam on Friday, I honestly forgot about this. Do you want to continue the debate or no?
Posted by LoveRichardDawkins 3 years ago
Ok so I have clearly won this debate since my opponent forfeited.
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