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'Stay in customs union', Hogan tells May

Irish commissioner believes reversal will help to resolve issues over Border and trade


Commissioner Phil Hogan has challenged Theresa May. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Commissioner Phil Hogan has challenged Theresa May. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Commissioner Phil Hogan has challenged Theresa May. Photo: Fergal Phillips

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has directly challenged British Prime Minister Theresa May to reverse her decision to take the UK out of the European tariff-free area as a central part of Brexit.

Mr Hogan has publicly urged her to use a landmark speech she will make in Florence this Friday to state that Britain will stay inside the EU customs union after Brexit becomes a reality in 2019.

The agriculture commissioner said this is what British business wants from Brexit and it would also go a long way towards resolving Irish Border and trade dilemmas.

"She must reflect very carefully on all of the representations that have been made to her in relation to business and trade with the European Union.

"It is in the interests of the UK business community and employment that we have good trading arrangements with the biggest market at their disposal, which is the other 27 member states of the European Union," he told the Irish Independent.

"To achieve that in a frictionless way, it means we have to have the United Kingdom reconsider their position in respect of the customs union.

"This not only will help trading relationships between the EU and UK, but would also help us enormously in dealing with the issue of a 'soft Brexit' and the Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"So, I would hope that common sense and pragmatism will prevail on the part of the British government to remain in the customs union in the future and resolve many of the difficult issues by this policy change."

British diplomats have trailed Friday's speech by Mrs May as an important occasion.

But up to now, she has steadfastly stuck to her statement last October that Britain's break with the EU in March 2019 will be total - including leaving the border-free single market and the internal free trade area known as the customs union.

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Experts insist that these moves, and especially Britain quitting the customs union, make a 'hard Border' with Ireland inevitable.

They say it also makes trade tariffs between Ireland and the UK unavoidable.

Mr Hogan has also backed the idea of an EU finance minister to closely co-ordinate economic and finance policies in the 27 member states.

But he said a directly-elected EU president is not wanted right now.

Mr Hogan said a strengthened role for a European finance commissioner, as proposed by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker last Wednesday, should happen soon, bringing a better response to financial crises.

But he said the other idea pushed again by Mr Juncker, while desirable in the longer term, is not wanted at present.

Mr Hogan's call on Mrs May will intensify pressure from the 'Remain' side in Britain which wants a so-called 'soft Brexit'.

But she is also under pressure from the hardline 'Leave' advocates.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has published a plan about Britain after Brexit that included an insistence on leaving the customs union.

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