UK seeks customs union after Brexit


Britain said Tuesday that it would seek a “temporary customs union” with the European Union after Brexit, in an opening gambit for trade negotiations that received a cool response from Brussels.
The government proposed to continue for around two years the kind of tariff-free arrangements that apply now to EU-UK trade in goods, to give businesses more time to adapt to new post-Brexit systems. But unlike under the current customs union, London said it wanted to be able to negotiate free trade agreements with non-EU countries during the interim period, which would then be implemented afterwards.
Brexit minister David Davis told BBC radio it was “sensible” to have a “shortish period in which we maintain the current arrangements”, lasting “something like two years”. The proposal was welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry, Britain’s big business lobby group, but critics dismissed it as “fantasy”.
Britain has said it will leave the EU customs union and single market its largest trading partner when it leaves the bloc in March 2019, but wants trade to continue as smoothly as possible.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said Tuesday that it would “take note” of the proposals, but warned: “‘Frictionless trade’ is not possible outside the single market and customs union.”
Experts have said it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate a new EU-UK trade agreement before Britain leaves the bloc, raising fears of a damaging “cliff edge”.
“One possible approach would be a temporary customs union between the UK and the EU,” the Brexit ministry said in a statement, as it published a policy paper on future trading relations.
The CBI’s deputy director Josh Hardie said the proposal was “encouraging”, adding: “The clock is ticking and what matters now is giving companies the confidence to continue investing as quickly as possible.”


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