In response to warnings of the damage which may be caused by leaving the Single Market, Eurosceptics say that rather than focusing on our trade with the EU, we should look to doing trade deals with the rest of the world. This we will be able to do post-Brexit if we leave the EU customs union, which means that the member states make trade deals with other nations as one unified body. It is true that other parts of the world are growing much faster than the EU currently is, and our trade to the EU has shrunk in proportion to our trading with other parts of the world.
At the end of last year the former governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, hinted that Britain could be better off leaving both the single market and the customs union.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said:
“There are many opportunities and I think we should look at it in a much more self-confident way than either side is approaching it at present. Being out of what is a pretty unsuccessful European Union – particularly in the economic sense – gives us opportunities as well as obviously great political difficulties.”
Similarly, a group of sixty Conservative MPs signed a letter to the Telegraph which claimed that Britain must leave the EU customs union if it wanted to be truly free from the shackles of the EU.
“In order to realise the Prime Minister’s vision of a nation exporting goods and services around the world, open for international business, supporting emerging markets and spreading the benefits of economic growth, Britain will need to liberate itself from the burdens of the customs union. Only in leaving will we truly be a beacon of international free trade.”
However, those on the soft Brexit side argue that making a trade deal with another country that is good for your own is much easier to do when you are unified with other countries. Negotiating a trade deal as part of a 500 million strong economy (the EU), they say, gives you a much stronger hand than negotiating as a 65 million strong economy (the UK). It also makes it much easier to move goods between member countries.
On top of this, as the BBC website states:
“Supporters of the customs union point out that if the UK were to leave it, there would be much more paperwork for UK businesses to fill out, and it could make the border issues involving Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic more complicated.”
So there you have it. Hard Brexit has essentially come to mean discarding our Single Market membership (though we would still have access to the Single Market) and along with it freedom of movement, coming entirely out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and coming out of the EU customs union so as to make our own free trade deals with other countries. While soft Brexit has come to mean staying in the Single Market, keeping (though perhaps also reforming) freedom of movement, and remaining in the customs union so as to have free movement of goods and trade within a multinational bloc.