Irish PM says Brexit agreement at risk if UK and EU don't...

Irish PM says Brexit agreement at risk if UK and EU don't make 'substantial progress' by June – Politics live


Theresa May is in Sofia in Bulgaria this morning for an EU-Western Balkans summit and this morning she has dismissed (sort of) reports that the government is planning a post-Brexit customs compromise that would effectively keep the UK in the customs union after December 2020, when the transition period is due to end.

The Daily Telegraph has splashed on the story (paywall) and Politico Europe has got its own, very similar tale.

Neil Henderson

TELEGRAPH: May ‘outguns’ Brexiteers with Plan for customs ties after 2021 #tomorrowspaperstoday

May 16, 2018

Here’s an extract from the Telegraph story by Steven Swinford.

Britain will tell Brussels it is prepared to stay tied to the customs union beyond 2021 as ministers remain deadlocked over a future deal with the EU, the Telegraph has learned …

Ministers signed off the plans on Tuesday despite objections from Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary. A pro-European cabinet source said that Mr Johnson and Mr Gove were “outgunned” during the meeting and reluctantly accepted the plans.

The Brexit sub-committee reached a consensus that Britain will stay aligned to the customs union if highly complex technology needed to operate borders after Brexit is not ready. Officials have warned it may not be in place until 2023.

Sources said that the new Irish “backstop” will be strictly “time-limited” and make clear that Britain will be free to implement trade deals.

And here is an extract from the Politico Europe story by Tom McTague and David Herszenhorn.

When is a customs union not a customs union? When it’s a “time-limited goods arrangement.”

With the Cabinet at odds over the U.K. government’s preferred option for a post-Brexit customs arrangement, officials are exploring a new option that could provide “a bridge” to a deal.

Instead of moving immediately to the eventual post-Brexit customs scheme at the end of the transition period on January 1, 2021, the U.K. could agree to temporarily remain inside the EU’s common external tariff until a future customs arrangement is ready, according to three senior officials involved in the Brexit negotiations from both the U.K. and EU.

May was asked about this in Sofia this morning. Asked if the UK was climbing down over leaving the customs union, she insisted it wasn’t. She said:

No we are not [climbing down]. The United Kingdom will be leaving the customs union, we are leaving the European Union.

Of course we will be negotiating future customs arrangements with the European Union and I have set three objectives, the government has three objectives in those.

We need to be able to have our own independent trade policy, we want as friction-less a border between the UK and the EU so that trade can continue and we want to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

You’ll notice that she did not deny the substance of the story at all – just the suggestion that it amounted to a policy reversal.

Theresa May (centre) with the German chancellor Angela and the French president Emmanuel Macron at the EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Theresa May (centre) with the German chancellor Angela and the French president Emmanuel Macron at the EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia, Bulgaria. Photograph: Darko Vojinovic/AP

Other Tories may not be quite so sanguine about this. This is what Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chair of the European Research Group, the 60-strong group of Tory MPs pushing for a harder Brexit, told the Telegraph.

The risk of the government using all its mental energy on the fallback position is that they create a position that is more attractive than a permanent deal.

We have gone from a clear end point, to an extension, to a proposed further extension with no end point. The horizon seems to be unreachable. The bottom of the rainbow seems to be unattainable. People voted to leave, they did not vote for a perpetual purgatory.

We’ll hear a lot more on this as the day goes on.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

9.30am: The government review of building regulations ordered after the Grenfell Tower fire will be published. As Robert Booth and Peter Walker report, it will not recommend an explicit ban on combustible cladding and insulation, despite persistent demands from Grenfell Tower survivors and fire safety experts.

9.30am: The Office for National Statistics publishes data on personal wellbeing.

Around 11.30am: Tracey Crouch, the culture minister, gives a Commons statement on the government’s decision, announced at 7am, to cut the maximum permitted stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) will be cut from £100 to £2.

Around 12.30pm: James Brokenshire, the housing secretary, gives a Commons statement on the buildings regulation review.

Afternoon: Theresa May is due to hold a press conference in Macedonia, which she is visiting after an EU summit in Bulgaria.

4.30pm: Fox gives an interview to LBC.

As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web. I plan to post a summary at lunchtime and another in the afternoon.

You can read all today’s Guardian politics stories here.

Here is the Politico Europe round-up of this morning’s political news from Jack Blanchard. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’ top 10 must reads.

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