Brexit: Britain remains committed to no hard border in North
EU rejects both of Britain’s proposals that aim to keep trade frictionless after Brexit
“We are confident that in the coming months if all sides work together productively we can achieve a solution,” British prime minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said.
“We have been clear that the UK is leaving the customs union and we need to find a solution that protects things like the Belfast Agreement, avoids a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and protects Ireland’s place in the UK internal market. That continues to be our focus.”
According to news reports, EU negotiators have rejected as unworkable both of Britain’s proposals to keep trade frictionless after Brexit, a “customs partnership” and a “streamlined customs arrangement”.
A customs partnership would see Britain collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU for goods entering the country en route to Europe and applying its own tariffs to imported goods destined for the British market.
The second, a customs arrangement, envisages technological and administrative measures ensuring that trade with the EU remains frictionless, with additional measures for Northern Ireland such as allowing small traders to operate across the Border unchecked.
The EU is reported to have rejected the customs union because it does not want a country outside its supervision to levy duties, that it placed the burden of collecting tariffs on business, and that implementing the scheme on the EU side would be too costly.
Its objection to the customs arrangement proposal apparently reflects a reluctance to turn a blind eye to possible irregularities along the Border.
Britain last month rejected the EU’s language on the Border in a draft withdrawal agreement because it claims it only partially reflects the joint report agreed between the two sides last December.
The joint report outlined the terms of a “backstop” arrangement if other measures fail to prevent a hard border, including regulatory alignment between North and South.
A subsequent paragraph, promising no new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, is not included in the EU’s draft withdrawal agreement.
The House of Commons will vote next week on a motion calling on the British government to seek to remain in a customs union with the European Union in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
The motion, which has been tabled by 10 select committee chairs including Conservatives Nicky Morgan and Sarah Wollaston, will be non-binding but the debate will increase pressure on the government to keep the customs union option alive following a massive defeat on the issue in the House of Lords on Wednesday.