Michel Barnier's warning on Brexit: It's time to decide

Marcus Newton
February 7, 2018

Michel Barnier has warned Theresa May that leaving the Customs Union will result in "unavoidable barriers to trade" as he said: "the time has come to make a choice".

Downing Street says Britain is "categorically" leaving the customs union post-Brexit - a statement viewed alternately as a salve to calm backbenchers over UK-EU ties, or as a red flag for Tory mutineers.

Bailey's comments come as talks between London and Brussels enter a crucial - and potentially fraught - second round, with the British prime minister coming under increasing pressure to clarify the future of Britain's relationship with Europe.

The latest European Union draft of the transition agreement says the bloc should be able to cut Britain's access to the EU's single market if it misbehaves, and if there is not likely to be enough time to take the issue to the bloc's top court in Luxembourg.

But he added: "If you look at Mrs May, it seems to be quite clear she does it because it's her duty to do it".

Downing Street made clear on Monday that she was ruling out any form of customs union with the bloc on the grounds that it would restrict Britain's ability to negotiate free trade deals around the world.

No. 10's insistence that the United Kingdom has ruled out a customs union - essentially a trade agreement where EU members charge the same import tax - follows what Politico's Jack Blanchard describes as "days of increasingly bitter squabbling within the Tory party".

In relation to alignment, Mr Barnier said the European Union is "working with British authorities on the content of that sentence".

The questions are "can we trust London?", and "can London deliver December's deal?" given the turmoil in the government, said an Irish source.

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British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the China-UK Business Forum in Shanghai on February 2, 2018.

No 10 has slapped down suggestions that we are staying in the Customs Union after the transition.

Lawmakers keen on leaving the European Union have accused Philip Hammond - the sober-minded chancellor who understands Brexit isn't the Promised Land - of betrayal for telling the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that the United Kingdom will seek only "very modest" changes in its relationship with the EU.

Barnier's warning comes after May dismissed any possibility of remaining in the customs union following the transition period, in a move which has been hailed as a significant victory for Brexiteers.

Indeed, during Theresa May's speech of 17th January 2017 when she set out Britain's negotiating positions (the so-called "12 points"), it was stated that "I do want us to have a customs agreement with the EU".

Ahead of the meeting Barnier had warned the UK Government there was "not a minute to lose" in efforts to achieve a Brexit deal.

Last week, a row broke out after leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads an influential group of Tory MPs, accused the Treasury of "fiddling the figures" in Brexit forecasts with the aim of keeping Britain in the customs union.

He wrote: "She can only command a majority in Parliament on her present policy".

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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