Brexit news: Leo Varadkar hints Theresa May is preparing for full customs alignment with EU
After meeting with the Prime Minister at the EU’s Western Balkans summit in Sofia, Mr Varadkar said his British counterpart had given him fresh insight into Britain’s Brexit strategy.
The Irishman described a “new thinking” by British negotiators and they could even offer a new customs proposal within the next two weeks.
He hinted this could even be a softened approach from Mrs May, with Britain potentially agreeing to continue full customs alignment between the whole of the EU and UK.
Mr Varadkar said: “I said to the Prime Minister that any move that helped to align all of the EU and UK in terms of customs into the future would be beneficial.”
Any move that helped to align all of the EU and UK in terms of customs into the future would be beneficial
The Irish border conundrum has been Brexit biggest challenge with the UK and EU still yet to agree on anything, other than no hard border must emerge as a result of the UK’s EU divorce.
Britain has put forward two proposals and seen them both rejected by Brussels, opening up huge rifts in Mrs May’s so-called Brexit war Cabinet.
Brexiteers have favoured a “maximum facilitation” – otherwise known as “MaxFac” – which uses technology and a trusted trader scheme to seriously limit the number of customs checks.
This was dismissed as wishful thinking by Brussels, with only the Prime Minister’s plan for a new customs partnership left on the table.
The customs agreement, however, was rejected by Cabinet Brexiteers with, most notably, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson branded the plan “crazy”.
Mrs May was left to hit back at suggestions she had softened her approach and was seeking continued alignment until a technological solution can be created, experts believe the complex equipment may not be fully operational until 2023.
She told reporters in Sofia: “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.”
But this did not comfort Mr Varadkar, who told the press on his way into the EU summit the Irish border issue still threatens to collapse the entire negotiations.
He said: “If we are not making real and substantial progress by June then we need to seriously question whether we’re going to have a Withdrawal Agreement at all.
“We stand by the text of the Withdrawal Agreement and the text of the protocol published in March as does the taskforce and the 27 member states that are behind us.
“If the UK wants to put forward alternatives to that whether alternative text to the backstop or an alternative future relationship between the UK and the EU, we’re willing to examine that.
“But we need to see it written down in black and white and know that it is workable and legally operable. And we’ve yet to see anything that remotely approaches that.”
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