That remains to be seen, of course. If we were in a customs union, I have no doubt that the issue of freeing up trade between the European Union and China would become a very important point—and, since the Chinese are now being sucked into a trade war with the United States, they might take a rather different view of a free trade agreement with the European Union than they have in the past. I do not know. All I can say is that they are more likely to do so if what they are offered is access to a 500 million single market, with the UK in a customs union with it, rather than what they have at the moment.
Then what will we say to India and Brazil, for example, which undoubtedly will raise with us issues about the visa burden on their students, businessmen and researchers? It is obviously desirable that we should have agreements with Australia and New Zealand, but what will that mean for our producers of sheepmeat and beef, who are already at risk of being struck by the loss of their continental European markets if all does not go well with our negotiations with the EU. What will we say to that?
One day, I hope, when President Trump’s memorial library is being constructed—there will not be many books in it, I imagine—the world will resume the search for multilateral and plurilateral trade agreements to remove tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade. What role will we play in such negotiations as an independent actor with our own trade policy? I can give noble Lords a clue: a very modest one, is the honest answer. I was a very junior member of the negotiating team in the Kennedy round, which was the last occasion on which the UK operated independently before it joined the European Communities. We were in a much stronger position then than we are now. Our share of world trade was much greater and we had a stronger economy on the whole compared with other people. However, even then, in the 1960s, the deals were cut between the US, Japan and the European Community. In future, it will be between the US, China, the European Union, Japan and India. Of course, we will be there on the margins, our eye glued to the keyhole, saying, “Me, too”, when they reach an agreement, but our role will be that of a watcher and not, as we are at the moment, an actor. So the case for an independent trade policy does not stack up. It is a chimera and a mirage, doomed to disappoint.
Of course, if we were to remain in the customs union, we would need to raise some quite important issues with the EU to ensure that we had a proper consultative role in shaping its trade policy and that any trade deals negotiated by the EU applied fully to all members of the customs union, including the UK, and did not require separate negotiation. But how can we find out whether these possibilities are even faintly viable if we are not ready to ask for them to be put on the table and to discuss what the reaction of the other side would be? Since this would greatly help the problems of Northern Ireland, I suspect that it would be pretty positive.
The other day, I heard a representative of one of the think tanks that supports Brexit and an independent trade policy, the IEA, say, quite clearly, that an independent trade policy is “the only prize” remaining from Brexit. But is it a prize? I very much doubt it.