Larry Elliott (The value of a customs union is overrated, 4 April) fails to explain why Britain appears to underperform in trade within the EU. To argue that the customs union is somehow biased in favour of countries such as Germany and France at the expense of British companies is without merit.
Many so-called “British companies” are British only in the sense that they are incorporated in Britain. They otherwise do not reflect any sense of British “ownership”. This situation is very different in Germany and France. VW the German auto manufacturer is an example. The German government holds a golden share in VW that prevents it from being bought by non-German parties. In France, Renault benefits from state participation in ownership. Little wonder that they perform better in terms of inter-EU trade and further afield. They are strong, well-established, leading-edge businesses. They have subsidiary networks throughout the EU and elsewhere.
The British auto industry is very different. When the national industry collapsed in the 1980s – a consequence of long-standing neglect – auto manufacturers such as Nissan, Honda and Toyota migrated to Britain. They did so because it promised tariff-free access into EU markets. Their ownership, however, lies outside Britain.
Strategic decisions are not taken in Britain. Britain is but a small bit in a much bigger picture for them. For these reasons the British auto industry will be less strong both within the EU and internationally. To blame this on the customs union is a cop-out. It is wishful thinking to imagine that Britain will secure a more favourable customs union deal with the EU or negotiate more favourable trade deals outside the EU. If we want to export more goods, the UK needs, as Larry Elliott makes clear, to be better at manufacturing things customers want to buy and stop blaming the EU for our own shortcomings.
Principal at the Centre for International Economics
• Larry Elliott questions the value of a customs union. This issue addresses the principal weakness of British business. Before a nation can export goods, it first has to invest in saleable products. Since the demise of the empire, British business has preferred to buy US computer products, on which to run its financial services industries. Britain’s financial services have been financed by the sale of Britain’s land and property. The decline of Britain is the result of a lack of commitment to Britain’s future. Britain is run by salesmen: engineering is for the lower orders. As with Brexit, British politicians expect foreigners to do the hard work.
• Larry Elliott fails to mention the main reason why Labour and others are arguing for a customs union with the EU: the Irish border. Rules of origin checks are required at borders between different customs regimes, to ensure that the right tariffs have been paid on the right goods. This requires hard infrastructure at the Northern Irish border, which could reignite tensions that led to violence during the Troubles. While a customs union alone will not remove the need for all checks, it will be a necessary and significant part of an open border: indeed, this is why customs union membership is the main provision in the Northern Irish backstop.
Senior political adviser, Trade Justice Movement
• Michael Morpurgo wrote fine children’s stories, but he misses the mark on Brexit (Brexit is a bitter story to tell our children, 5 April). Under the deal that remainers oppose, the German Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler would be entitled to stay in Britain. Peace and democracy are not creations of the EU – do Canada, Norway and Switzerland not have them? – and far from the EU creating prosperity, it has destroyed it across Spain, Italy and Greece.
Brexiteers do not “blame Europe for most of our ills”, we blame it for taking a net £13bn a year from us (after the UK rebate) while we received only £4.1bn back, forcing uncontrolled EU immigration on us under the rules of the single market, damaging agriculture through protectionism, and substituting Brussels horse trading and stitch-ups for the right to govern our own country. As for his proposal of “creating a reformed Europe”, that really is a story for children.
• Thank you, Michael Morpurgo for articulating the views of so many other people. Nobody pretends the EU is perfect, but being part of it offers a far better prospect for our collective future. As the disastrous consequences of leaving the EU – including the likely breakup of the UK, and the obvious dangers for Ireland and Northern Ireland – become ever more clear, we all need reminding of the positive achievements of the EU. Let us now hear more about this from our politicians too. Many must now realise in their heart of hearts, whatever they say publicly, that no form of Brexit will match the advantages of remaining part of the EU. Congratulations to Michael Morpurgo for reminding us why.
• Those Tory MPs unhappy to see Mrs May talking to alleged Marxist Jeremy Corbyn should remember that trying to “cook up a deal with a Marxist” is nothing new and that Marx’s influence remains everywhere (Two ministers quit amid widespread Tory fury over May’s talks with Labour, 4 April).
Clement Attlee, a fervent hater of communism, saw it just like Marx – as a “spectre haunting Europe”. To maintain order in the postwar upheaval, keep the ghost at bay and capitalism on its feet, Attlee instituted a great deal of Marx’s social thinking – health provision, housing, workplace safety, welfare, pensions et al – much of it, however reluctantly, accepted as Tory policy. If Marx did make a mistake it was to forget that the capitalists could read.
Budock Water, Cornwall
• The flooded House of Commons chamber (Report, 5 April) is not only a metaphor for the mess the country is in over Brexit, but a statement of the medieval state in which our legislature works. It is time it is turned into a museum, or even mausoleum, with a modern, fit-for-purpose chamber replacing it. It should be based on an amphitheatre, with business conducted during a sensible working day. Out would go the ridiculous division lobbies with members voting at their desks electronically. An elected second chamber would include some appointed expert members to shadow government ministers and provide advice to members of the second chamber. Election by the single transferable vote would deliver a legislature fit for the 21st century.
• Has Jonathan Jones missed the sexual dimension in Anish Kapoor’s depiction of Brexit Britain, which he fails to discuss (On the edge of the abyss, G2, 3 April)? We are, of course, about to be royally screwed.
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