Published: Wed, February 07, 2018
Worldwide | By Victor Meyer

Michel Barnier: trade barriers 'unavoidable' outside customs union

Michel Barnier: trade barriers 'unavoidable' outside customs union

There will be a meeting between Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary David Davis in London on Monday.

Both David Davis, the Brexit secretary, and Liam Fox, the trade minister, have come out against remaining in the EU customs union.

"Everyone has to play by the same rules during this transition", he said.

"It is not our policy to be in the Customs Union", a Downing Street source was quoted as saying.

An "intense" period of negotiations will begin straightaway and the UK Government is "confident" of securing an agreement at the next meeting of European Union leaders in March, he said.

MPs within May's own Conservative party in favour of a so-called hard Brexit, which would see Britain sever all ties with the EU post-Brexit, have been exerting pressure on the British premier to spell out her stance on the Customs Union.

The spokesman said that Mrs May would join Mr Barnier and Mr Davis for around 20 minutes before leaving them to have lunch together with Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins and the UK's ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow.

According to United Kingdom media reports, Conservative party MPs in favour of a complete break from the EU have threatened to submit a "tsunami" of letters demanding a vote of no confidence unless May backs their demand of a complete exit from the EU customs union.

The debate around staying within or leaving the customs unions has grown a fearsome and contentious issue within Mrs May's troubled government and her wider Conservative Party.

The Secretary of State acknowledged that whatever final line were agreed, it would probably involve some form of customs "arrangement" or "partnership" with the European Union but she said the PM continued to have an "open mind" as to how that could be achieved.

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"Her MPs will back her, because we are overwhelmingly at one with the majority of the British people who now want a clean Brexit and an end to the present uncertainty".

A spokesperson for the prime minister added on Monday that the government was instead looking at agreeing either a "highly streamlined customs arrangement" or "a new customs partnership" with the EU.

The Cabinet is split over those who want certainty for business that trade will continue to be able to flow freely with the European Union and those who want Britain to be able to rapidly sign free trade deals with the rest of the EU.

Downing Street sought to draw a line after days of sometimes conflicting messages from ministers about the approach to future customs arrangements.

This comes ahead of the restarting of Brexit negotiations later this week in Brussels. "Speaking on Marr, Amber Rudd said she was "not intimidated" by Brexiteers" warnings over the customs union. "It's not a matter of scaremongering to get negotiating advantage", he said.

"We want to have a bespoke agreement".

"She is our prime minister and that's not going to change, full stop", she said on ITV's Good Morning Britain. "The issue is the rights they accrue as a result".

May will hold two cabinet meetings on Wednesday and Thursday at which she will try to heal the deep divisions among her ministers over the best way to leave the EU.

And ministers have said the demand exceeds what was agreed at December's summit in Brussels.

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