Saturday 23 March 2019

UK backs Brexit deal to honour most EU rules and avoid Border

British Prime Minister Theresa May sets out her Brexit plans as Brexiteer minister Penny Mordaunt (left) watches on, arms crossed during a Cabinet meeting at Chequers. Picture: PA
British Prime Minister Theresa May sets out her Brexit plans as Brexiteer minister Penny Mordaunt (left) watches on, arms crossed during a Cabinet meeting at Chequers. Picture: PA

Shona Murray

The British government has signed up to a Brexit deal that would keep the UK tied to EU rules and regulations indefinitely.

Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain would establish a “free trade area for goods” with the EU, allowing for frictionless trade and avoiding the need for a hard Border.

A new customs arrangement will treat the UK and EU “as if [they are] a combined customs territory” and Britain will adopt a “common rulebook” with the EU on industrial goods and agricultural products.

The deal appeared to be a significant victory for Remainers in the cabinet, as it keeps Britain closely aligned with the customs union and single market.

A three-page statement released last night is similar to a document partially leaked to the media on Thursday which Eurosceptic Tory MPs dismissed as “not Brexit”.

The latest offering signed up to by May’s Cabinet include many of the EU’s immovable single market rules, but London has relented on some of its red lines.

High level sources have told the Irish Independent that on first look Brussels will immediately shoot down some parts of the proposals as ‘cherry-picking’.

After a febrile week of bi-lateral meetings – including a secret invitation by the UK’s lead negotiator Ollie Robbins to Tánaiste Simon Coveney – there was cautious hope that the pressure on Britain over crashing out of the EU with no transition deal would motivate all sides to be “sensible”.

The paper contains four major proposals.

Read more: How Britain will look to 'avoid friction at Border'

Crucially, the first includes a common rulebook for all goods. This in particular is likely to be seen as a non-runner by Brussels, and was already rejected in theory weeks ago when mooted through the press.

Any UK-wide approach to goods and regulation which represents Britain having access to the EU’s single market, without accepting the other principles on freedom of movement, will be refused on first glance. It is an immovable EU red line for the EU 27.

“Some interesting elements but we will need to see more detail. And, yes, at first glance it would mean partial single market – if so, this would be a problem,” said a Brussels Brexit source. “But worthy of more detailed consideration and discussion.”

The second piece keeps the UK in step with the European Court of Justice, most likely for goods, again. This is a major development for the UK cabinet to have agreed.

The third is a separate, common rulebook on regulation and state aid.

The UK also proposes to work with Brussels on a new ‘customs arrangement’ which would replace the current customs union but work in the same way.

It would therefore remove the need for customs checks and controls between the North and Republic. This part is also conspicuously incomplete, bearing in mind Brexiteers’ objectives to conduct trade deals with countries where goods are often incompatible with EU standards.

“It sounds like a version of their customs partnership idea so again not immediately obvious how it could be agreed but need to see detail,” the senior Brexit source said.

Read more: May finally outlines post-Brexit plan for EU trade - but that's the easy bit

Mrs May insisted the Cabinet had “agreed our collective position for the future of our negotiations with the EU”, but even if she has achieved unanimity among her ministers, Mrs May must win the backing of the UK Parliament for her plan before facing the acid test of seeking Brussels’ agreement.

Her allies also fear that if the deal is rejected by the right wing of the Tory Party she could face a no-confidence vote within days.

Mrs May will address all Conservative MPs on Monday evening in an attempt to win their backing.

David Jones, the former Brexit minister, said: “Clearly, we must await more details, but people will want to know how the proposals respect the government’s red lines on the single market and customs union, as well as ensuring that the UK is not subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

“It is hard, at first sight, to see how they can.”

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said the EU was ready to “adapt” its position if the prime minister did likewise.

But he warned “time is short” to make progress ahead of the October European Council at which the UK’s withdrawal agreement and a political accord on future relations are due to be finalised.

Irish Independent

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