Thursday 20 September 2018

Varadkar tells May customs territory deal not 'workable'

Taoiseach welcomes UK Prime Minister's proposal but says EU regulations must be respected

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told UK Prime Minister Theresa May he was concerned about the "workability" of the post-Brexit customs proposal she agreed with her cabinet.

In a private telephone conversation, Mr Varadkar told Ms May he believed her customs proposal would involve the introduction of tariffs.

However, he said the EU should give proper consideration to Ms May's Brexit proposals before responding. The Prime Minister assured the Taoiseach that a white paper she will publish this week will give more detail to her ''common customs territory'' proposal which would see Britain and the EU sign up to a "common rulebook" on goods and agriculture.

The Taoiseach said the Government was open to proposals which will avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

However, he insisted any free trade arrangement between the EU and the UK would have to respect the rules of the single market and the customs union. He also suggested that an informal EU leaders summit in Salzburg could be used to discuss Brexit. A three-page document published by Ms May last Friday proposed full regulatory alignment on goods and agriculture after Brexit.

The document also proposed a customs arrangement which treats the EU and Britain as a "common customs territory". It proposed that the EU and Britain would also sign up to a "common rulebook" on industrial goods and agricultural products.

The ''soft Brexit'' proposal removes any need for a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The document states that the UK will not abide by EU rules on services but will recognise EU case law.

Ms May will next week publish a white paper which will give a more detailed outline of the proposal agreed with her ministers.

In a statement, a Government spokesperson said: "The Taoiseach welcomed the fact that the UK government had reached a position where it would put forward detailed proposals for the future EU-UK relationship post-Brexit.

"He looked forward to seeing greater detail on those proposals over the coming days and hoped they would be a helpful input to the negotiation process.

"He noted that time is running out and the Government would engage constructively with the Barnier Task Force and the other Member States over the coming weeks," he added.

The Taoiseach said he was "open to proposals" which avoid a hard border and maintain free trade with the UK, while respecting the EU single market and customs union.

Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said it was time to "intensify" Brexit negotiations.

"Time is short. I am in regular contact with Michel Barnier and my officials are working day in and day out with the Task Force team he leads," Mr Coveney said.

"Our entire focus now is on ensuring a Withdrawal Agreement, including the Irish backstop, is agreed.

"This will give businesses across our islands certainty in terms of planning for a status-quo transition when the UK leaves the Union in March 2019."

Fianna Fail Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said she was "cautiously optimistic" following the publication of Ms May's proposal.

"This statement from Prime Minister May represents genuine progress in the ongoing Brexit negotiations and that this latest proposal adequately addresses Ireland's concerns, in particular the border issue," she said.

"While I appreciate that this is a difficult matter for the Conservative Party, time is fast running out and Britain must deliver on its commitment to a legally binding backstop," she added.

Sunday Independent

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