Saturday 21 April 2018

UK 'deluded' over plan for Brexit transitional period, warns Hogan

Tough talking: Phil Hogan. Photo: Collins Courts
Tough talking: Phil Hogan. Photo: Collins Courts

Steven Swinford and Colm Kelpie

Ireland has threatened to block Britain's plans for a two-year transition period after Brexit amid a furious row over customs arrangements.

Ireland's EU Commissioner Phil Hogan said yesterday this country could be the "biggest victim of this mess" and accused the UK of "high-level delusion".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already urged Britain to stay in the customs union and warned that unless it does there could be a new border in the Irish Sea.

The British government will today publish a position paper suggesting that ministers will stick to their plan for a "light touch" customs border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

But in a significant escalation of the row Mr Hogan, speaking to the 'Financial Times', suggested Britain cannot take for granted that the EU will agree to a transition period. He said: "I think that there's a high level of delusion in London at the moment about what is required to be done.

"But if there is an appetite for a pragmatic and reasonable outcome to a free-trade agreement, well then membership of the customs union would make a significant contribution to this.

Brexit Minister: David Davis. Photo: GETTY
Brexit Minister: David Davis. Photo: GETTY

"I'm very concerned about the Irish question. Ireland is probably the biggest victim of this mess." He added that ministers "still don't realise that the other 27 [member states] have to agree to this transition period of two or three years or whatever they're going to be seeking".

An Irish Government source confirmed it is prepared to use the "nuclear option" of vetoing the transition period.

"We have to see if will it be fruitful," the source said.

Brexit Secretary David Davis has acknowledged that the dispute is likely to be "problematic" as he called for "invisible" customs checks. However, Brexit negotiators are increasingly confident that Brussels will support Britain over the dispute.

The UK indicated yesterday it would seek the transition deal with the EU - in which it retains "close association" with the customs union - to smooth the way for a new post-Brexit trading arrangement.

That new arrangement could either be a "highly streamlined" customs agreement in which the UK would manage a new customs border with the EU and tariffs would be reduced or removed. Or it could be a new customs partnership that would avoid the need for a customs border.

Britain's Department for Exiting the European Union said the UK's goal was to secure as frictionless trade as possible with the EU alongside the ability to forge trade deals around the world, and avoid a hard Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The interim "temporary" customs union would allow for a "smooth and orderly transfer to the new regime", it added.

In the first of a series of position papers today, the British Government will outline broad details of how it wants the transition customs deal that would avoid a cliff edge for businesses once the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

Irish Independent

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