Customs union would give UK a say in trade deals, says Varadkar

Taoiseach says union a win-win as Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair call for second Brexit poll

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visiting the Sikh Temple in  Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, on Sunday, the day after the centenary of the Amritsar massacres in 1919. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visiting the Sikh Temple in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, on Sunday, the day after the centenary of the Amritsar massacres in 1919. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Britain would have a “meaningful” say in future European trade deals if it chooses to enter a customs union with the EU, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar told The Irish Times that the UK, as the fifth-largest economy in the world, should have a say in any trade deals.

The argument against a customs union from many in Westminster has been that the UK would not have any say in trade deals struck between the EU and other trading blocs.

Mr Varadkar last week first floated the prospect of a new-style customs union between the EU and Britain.

His comments were seized upon by UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is pushing for such a policy in his talks with British prime minister Theresa May as they attempt to reach a cross-party solution to Brexit.

The Taoiseach said a new customs union would be a “win-win for the EU and UK”.

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“And we’d be stronger together in dealing with the US, China and Japan.”

Mr Varadkar said: “There seems be significant support for the UK forming a customs union with the EU after Brexit. It is of course up to them to decide if that’s what they want and to ask for it.

‘Favourable response’

“But if they do, I think they’d get a favourable response from the European Union. It would make elements of the backstop superfluous and would mean tariff and quota-free trade with Britain for our farmers and agrifood sector. Our biggest market for food.

“Given their size, I think they’d have to have some meaningful say about future trade deals and the rules of trade. At the same time, it would only work if we had a level playing field in terms of environmental and produce standards and workers’ rights so we aren’t undercut. It’s very much the kind of thing we’d be open to talking about, but before that is possible legally under article 50, they have to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement,” he said.

It is time to be brutally honest about the real choices and the real consequences of those choices

Separately, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former British labour prime minister Tony Blair have jointly called for a second confirmatory referendum on Brexit.

Writing in Monday’s Irish Times, the pair said they felt duty-bound, a generation on from the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreeement, to stress its ongoing significance to Ms May and Mr Corbyn.

‘Churn and reflection’

“Understand that the public are undergoing the same process of churn and reflection as the politicians, and give them permission to be honest about that,” they wrote.

They said it was time to “elevate the discussion above individual interests to the collective”.

“It is also time to be brutally honest about the real choices and the real consequences of those choices.

“Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit with the risk of a hard border, is both the most serious threat to the Belfast Agreement since it was created, and to the union in our lifetime,” they wrote.

“It is precisely because of such issues as the Border that there should be a confirmatory vote on whatever now emerges from the Brexit process in parliament.”

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