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Keep UK in a customs union, urges coalition of Yorkshire business and civic leaders

An anti-Brexit demonstrator looks pensive during a protest outside the Houses of Parliament on June 11, 2018 . The EU withdrawal bill returns to the House of Commons tomorrow for the first of two sessions in which MP's will consider amendments imposed by the Lords, and another set of fresh amendments.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
An anti-Brexit demonstrator looks pensive during a protest outside the Houses of Parliament on June 11, 2018 . The EU withdrawal bill returns to the House of Commons tomorrow for the first of two sessions in which MP's will consider amendments imposed by the Lords, and another set of fresh amendments. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

A coalition of influential Yorkshire business and political leaders have piled more pressure on Theresa May on the eve of two days of crunch Brexit votes by calling on the Government to seek a customs union deal with the European Union.

The letter, signed by figures including the regional director of the Yorkshire Confederation of British Industry, Sheffield developer Henry Boot PLC, three senior Labour MPs and Conservative peer Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, said this would be “the way to get the best possible Brexit deal for our region”.

The open letter to the people of Yorkshire, seen by The Yorkshire Post, comes as the EU (Withdrawal) Bill returns to the Commons today with Ministers seeking to overturn a raft of amendments by the House of Lords intended to keep Britain close to the EU after Brexit.

The letter says: “There are only six months left of Brexit negotiations before the withdrawal agreement is due to be put before the British and European parliaments and we want to see the best possible deal for Yorkshire.

“Our region depends on manufacturing, distribution and trade. That is why we are writing as businesses, trade unionists, cross party councillors and MPs from across Yorkshire to call on the government to seek a customs union deal with the EU.”

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Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee and a West Yorkshire MP.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee and a West Yorkshire MP.

Highlighting the £9.7bn in annual exports from Yorkshire to the EU and £16.8bn in imports, it says a customs union would allow trade to continue without extra customs checks or border delays, and without the “burdensome customs paperwork for businesses”.

The Yorkshire leaders, who are a mixture of Leave and Remain voters, said manufacturing would particularly benefit, as ‘just-in-time production’ means factories rely on being able to get components or ingredients from other countries quickly.

It said: “Some people have claimed we should have no customs union so we can do new trade agreements with other countries further away instead. However, it’s unclear if those new deals will be enough to compensate for the European trade we could lose. For sectors like food production, manufacturing and distribution that are important to Yorkshire, trade with the countries nearest to us will continue to be the most important.”

The full list of signatories are: Beckie Hart, Regional Director of Yorkshire CBI; Bill Adams, Regional Secretary of Yorkshire TUC; Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Hilary Benn MP, Chair of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee, Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, Baroness Anne McIntosh of Pickering, Peter Box, Leader of Wakefield Council, Henry Boot PLC, Freemans PLC, Grattan PLC, JLL and Specialist People Services Group.

Meanwhile, hiring among small businesses looks set to tumble by 2022 as Brexit uncertainty takes its toll, costing the economy more than £6 billion a year, it is feared.

A quarterly health check of small and medium-sized businesses, compiled by lender CYBG and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), signals the average number of workers taken on each year will plunge between 2017 and 2022.

It estimates the sharp pull back in SME hiring could see the annual contribution to the UK’s gross value added (GVA) figure fall to £4.8 billion.