Over two years on from the referendum on our membership of the European Union, our government finally has a plan.
There are just three problems. Firstly, it’s far from the comprehensive plan for jobs and the economy that Britain needs. Second, it’s not clear how the Customs proposals will work in practice. And lastly, many Conservative MPs don’t agree with the plan and are waiting in the wings to scupper it.
When I met with High Peak businesses who import and export, their key aim was for the UK to remain part of a Customs Union to enable us to keep tariff-free trade with the EU and to retain the benefits of the EU’s preferable trade deals with 66 countries.
This Chequers paper falls far short of that. It would still rely on new and hitherto uninvented technology to track and trace goods, involving the UK acting as the EU’s customs official.
It runs the risk of serious delays at our borders and would not create the all-important soft border in Northern Ireland.
It also has almost nothing to say about how the Government will protect our services industry, which comprises around 80% of the UK economy, but it does insist on the right to diverge from single market regulations.
This would be disastrous for the thousands of businesses, including many in High Peak, which bid for contracts in the EU and need to abide by the same regulations on standards and safety.
The Chequers paper acknowledges that the price of unequal regulation is that “the UK and the EU will not have current levels of access to each other’s markets”. Several High Peak businesses have already had to transfer trade and jobs to other EU countries and I worry that more will do so.
There is much wrong with the Chequers agreement, but there is now a strong section of Conservative MPs who would prefer ‘no deal’ and all the problems that would bring.
I will continue to advocate for negotiating a comprehensive customs union for all goods with shared institutions and regulations to protect both our economy, and our rights and standards and will be voting for an amendment to that effect on the Customs Bill next week.
That would be better for local jobs and businesses and also enable us to concentrate on all the problems building up at home, with our health services being cut, school classes rising and growing numbers of people in hardship from Universal Credit.
I will seek to make sure these very important issues are not ignored in the furore over personal divisions in a Government that is looking inward rather than concentrating on the state of our country.