Brexit: Britain could have ‘a say’ in trade deals if it joins customs union, Irish prime minister says

Brexit: Britain could have ‘a say’ in trade deals if it joins customs union, Irish prime minister says

Leo Varadkar says UK could not be a ‘silent partner’ as Labour pushes for customs union

Jon Stone
Wednesday 10 April 2019 18:20

Britain should have “a say” in any future customs union it joined with the European Union after Brexit, Ireland’s prime minister has said.

Leo Varadkar’s intervention comes amid talks between Labour and the government over whether the UK should have such a trade arrangement after Brexit.

Mr Varadkar said the UK would not be a “silent partner” in a customs union and that it was in the interests of both the EU and UK to sign a deal.

“I know one thing that I would like to be considered, and I know it is under consideration, is the possibly of a customs union being formed between the UK and the EU,” he told reporters on the doorstep of a summit in Brussels.

“Ultimately ... in a world of big blocs it’s in the interests of the UK to be part of one of those blocs. It’s also in our interest to have the UK in our bloc.

“I think we’d be generous in negotiating that, understanding that the UK couldn’t be a silent partner in such an arrangement, it would have to have a say in decisions being made.”

Labour has said it wants to join a customs union with the EU to soften the impact of Brexit, but that the UK should have a say in any trade deals.

Many Tory cabinet ministers are against a customs union, however, and see it as undermining Brexit. International trade secretary Liam Fox said it would be “the worst of both worlds”. It remains to be seen whether the government will agree to one as part of compromise talks taking place in Westminster.

A customs union would mean the UK had a common external tariff with the EU and that there would be fewer border checks between the UK and EU for goods. But without alignment on single market rules – which Labour also supports – there would have to be regulatory checks at the border even with a customs union.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said a customs union would go some way to solving the problem at the Northern Irish border. The backstop negotiated by Theresa May has some of the characteristics of a customs union.

Ireland is the first EU country to say the UK should have a say in such trade agreements; others, such as France, are known to be resistant to giving any ground to Britain.

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