Kent County Council to debate “all options” on the Customs Union today

Kent is known as the Garden of England and the Gateway to Europe.

As a County Councillor, you will rightly expect me to be proud of the place. It’s England largest county authority with 1.82m people.  It has a significant economy (GDP about £37 billion in 2015).  We have everything from Blue Flag beaches (where you can quite often find a Lib Dem peer swimming…) to UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Our history has been shaped by being only 17 miles by sea from continental Europe. Today it’s just 75 minutes by ferry or 35 minutes in the tunnel.  So the connection with Europe is really important for us socially and economically.

About 11,000 lorries full of goods pass through Kent ports per day.  That represents a lot of jobs.  Jobs for the lorry drivers and ferry crews.  Jobs for people who design and manufacture the imported and exported goods. Jobs for people who then use those goods to create further wealth.

When there are problems at the ports (such a strike in Calais) the whole of the county’s motorways grind to a halt, which is a big political issue in itself.  Daily commutes that normally take an hour suddenly take 3 hours.  Family life is hugely disrupted.  It’s hell.

But, most of the time this freight that is so important to our economy passes through seamlessly.  A lorry from the EU clears the port in two minutes.  A lorry from outside the EU’s Customs Union takes 20 minutes.

In Kent, people are very concerned.  If we leave the Customs Union and every lorry has to take 20 minutes coming through Dover (or a similar time going to over way) then we are going to have very serious problems.  The Port of Dover has produced a video predicting 17 mile queues.

It is clear to Liberal Democrats that we should stay in the Single Market, and especially in the Customs Union. Numerous territories are in the Customs Union but not the EU, including our beloved Channel Islands for example.  That may well be what Northern Ireland gets and 17 miles of water between us and the Continent do not make us less important than Northern Ireland, which is lucky enough to have a devolved government to speak up or it.

A majority of Kent residents voted to Leave the EU on 23 June 2016. But they were promised that trade would carry on before. This was said in the Leave leaflets through the doors.  I took part in numerous local Remain/Leave debates where the Leave speakers said there was no question of trade being disrupted and there would be no customs barriers.  Kent voted to Leave the EU on the basis trade would carry on as before.  If we are outside the Customs Unions it can’t be the same.

Liberal Democrats are the second party on Kent County Council.  As the Official Opposition, we have tabled a motion for all options to be considered.  This will be debated in today’s session at County Hall.  We will probably reach the motion some time in the afternoon.

I don’t know, writing the day before, which way the Conservatives will vote.  But I know Liberal Democrats are on the side of the people.

You can read the motion here.

You can watch the debate here.


* Antony Hook was #2 on the South East European list in 2014, is the English Party's representative on the Federal Executive and produces this sites EU Referendum Roundup.

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  • Why is the text on the Anthony Kook website a rather awful pale grey colour on a white background rather than a clear and legible black on white? Accessibilty, anyone?

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Oct '17 - 8:23pm

    Very well tried, Antony. We could not see the text of the evidently wrecking amendment, but the complacency of the Conservative side in a county which will surely suffer most if a no-deal Brexit goes ahead was astonishing.

  • I think this is the video referred to (with advert first). It was produced for the Tory conference.

    What the video actually says about potential delays is, “Even if it took just an extra two minutes to process a lorry, it would cause queues of over 17 miles at Dover and there would be similar chaos in Calais and Dunkirk with the ports in regular gridlock.”

    Lorries are typically processed in only about two minutes, speed made possible by the absence of customs clearance for EU goods and the use of ‘Transit’ – an internationally recognised passport for road-hauled goods which the UK is currently a member of via the EU.

    If customs clearance doesn’t work seamlessly and fast from day one of Brexit the congestion would instantly become epic and could easily be a greater barrier than WTO tariffs.

    Much of our trade in goods is now components going both ways as part of complex supply chains that will unravel with lightening speed if this isn’t sorted in good time. I’m astonished that Brexiteers are getting away with vague handwaving and that there hasn’t been more focus on practical aspects.

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Oct '17 - 9:35pm

    I hope and assume that KCC looked at the Norway option which would be a very sensible solution to this.

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Oct '17 - 9:43pm

    Martin – It’s been some time since I looked at this, but…

    As far as I know the Channel Islands are not in the EU, they were covered in a protocol to the UK’s accession agreement and (I assume) that carried on through the various treaty revisions. The Channel Islands, I understand, have free movement of goods with the EU. That suggests to me (and I’m happy to be corrected) that they are a bit like Norway i.e. they are not in THE customs union, but they are in A customs union of some sort.

    Presumably that would lapse when the UK leaves the EU. I don’t know whether they would be able to join the EEA separately. At the moment the Contracting Parties to the EEA agreement include the UK and the EU but I’ve no idea how the Channel Islands would be regarded in that or if they could sign up themselves. Or if they’d want to.

    I believe that there are other island states with a similar set up, for example the Faroes. However some certainly islands work as part of the ‘mainland state.’ I went to the Azores and they are definitely covered by free movement, same as mainland Portugal.

    As an aside, I thoroughly recommend the Azores. Wonderful place. Just take a good wind jacket.

  • The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, being Crown dependencies, have special membership status, arising from the UK’s membership of the EU. Thus if the UK leaves they also leave.

    I remember reading an official EU webpage on it but not been able to find it, so instead suggest you read:

    We also shouldn’t forget Gibraltar and the twelve British Overseas Territories that also enjoy favourable relationships with the EU.

    Interestingly, looking through the list of former special territories, I do wonder if the EU suffered a lack of vision or missed a trick by not (formally) maintaining favourable relationships with these former dependent territories.

  • Great to see my county of birth getting a mention on this site.

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