LONDON – The United Kingdom will face unavoidable barriers to trade with the European Union should the British government pursue plans to withdraw from the customs union during the process of exiting the bloc, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on Monday following a meeting in London.
Barnier met his British counterpart David Davis, who confirmed his Conservative government’s earlier statement that it would leave not only the EU single market but also common trade union, which facilitates frictionless, tariff-free trade in the bloc but also stipulated regulations that members must abide by.
“Without a customs union and outside the single market, barriers to trade and goods and services are unavoidable,” Barnier said. “The time has to come to make a choice,” he added, striking a less relaxed note than his British interlocutor at the joint press conference.
The French politician pressed the UK government for more clarity on what kind of future relations with the EU it envisages.
Pro-Brexit Conservative Party politicians have argued that exiting the customs union is the only way London can secure trade deals with other global powers without being bound by EU regulation but critics worry the move could exacerbate economic uncertainties and damage the UK’s financial sector.
Before departing for London from Brussels early Monday, Barnier told reporters that there remained much work to be done in the Brexit talks and that although he respected decisions taken by the UK government with regards to Brexit, London, too, must observe the guidelines set-out by Brussels.
But Downing Street’s announcement on the customs union threatened to set the negotiation teams at loggerheads once more, with the future of the soft border between the Republic of Ireland, and EU member and Northern Ireland, a UK territory, a recurring sticking point.
The Conservative government has suggested a “bespoke” trading deal between the EU and a UK outside both the single market and the customs union was possible, and that it need not necessarily mean the implementation of a hard border in Ireland.
EU officials have cast doubt on that approach, however.
The UK is set to leave the EU and its institutions on March 19, 2019, following which there is set to be a transition period of roughly two years.