Brexit Views 6 February 2018

EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, was in London yesterday for meetings with his UK Counterpart, David Davis and Prime Minister, Theresa May.
 
The meeting came on the back of an announcement from Downing Street that the UK would definitely be leaving the Customs Union after Brexit. This announcement followed a week of speculation over what the UK’s future customs arrangements with the EU would be with Ministers appearing to contradict each other on the issue.
 
After the talks, Michel Barnier said to the media that barriers to trade would be “unavoidable” with the UK outside the customs union and said that now is the time for the UK to put forward in clear terms what it wants for its future relationship with the EU after it leaves in March 2019. He said that with the next EU Council Summit not scheduled until the 22-23 March there is still time for the UK to “clarify its position” ahead of this meeting and the issuing by the Council of the EU’s guidelines for talks on the future relationship.
 
David Davis referred back to the UK’s Government’s position papers published last year as an indication to what the UK wants for its future customs relationship with the EU. He stated that the UK want a comprehensive free trade agreement with customs arrangements that would allow trade between the UK and the EU to be as frictionless as possible while the UK could also pursue its own international trade agreements with other countries. To those who might want to read more on these proposals, the paper on Future Customs Arrangements is available online here and the paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland can be read here. Prime Minister May is due to meet with her Brexit cabinet sub-committee on Wednesday and Thursday of this week and it is hoped that a clearer picture of what the UK will ask for with regards to customs arrangements will emerge after these meetings.
 
The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has echoed Barnier’s call for clarity on the UK’s vision for its post-Brexit trade relationship with the EU and has also expressed concern about how the commitments made in the Joint Report in December can be met should the UK be outside a Customs Union with the EU.  
 
Transition was also discussed by Barnier and Davis yesterday with Barnier saying that the UK would have to “play by the same rules” during transition and that certainty around transition will only come with the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, hoped to happen later this year.
 
The British Irish Chamber continues to advocate for a Brexit outcome that will see the UK have a formal Customs Arrangement with the EU after Brexit. This needs to be coupled with a comprehensive deal on Services if we are to avoid unnecessary damage to the valuable trade that we all currently benefit from, including trade in many goods that depend on related services. We also echo Barnier’s observations that without some formal customs arrangement between the UK and the EU there will inevitably be barriers to this trade. We would argue that the UK can secure better trade deals as part of the EU negotiating block rather than being outside of it and that the pursuit of the “slogan” of Global Britain risks undermining the achievability of the commitments made in December’s Joint Report.