Huge blow for Theresa May as Michel Barnier rejects key plank of UK's Brexit blueprint
Michel Barnier has rejected the central plank of the UK's Brexit blueprint in a huge blow for Theresa May.
The EU's chief negotiator completely rejected the Prime Minister's plans for a future customs deal between London and Brussels.
Under the proposal, which was agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers earlier this month, Britain would collect tariffs on behalf of the EU on goods heading for the continent.
But speaking following fresh talks with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Mr Barnier said the so-called 'Facilitated Customs Arrangement' was a non-starter.
"The EU cannot and the EU will not delegate the application of its customs policy and rules, VAT and excises duty collection to a non-member who would not be subject to the EU's governance structures," he said.
"Any customs arrangements or customs union - and I always said that the EU is open to a customs union - must respect this principle and in any case a customs union which would help to reduce friction at the border would come with out common commercial policy for goods.
"Any customs arrangement will have to be workable and must protect EU and national revenue without imposing additional costs on businesses and customs authorities. This is the framework in which we will work with the UK in the coming weeks."
His comments are the strongest rejection yet by Brussels of the Government's Brexit vision, which has already led to the resignations of Cabinet big beasts David Davis and Boris Johnson.
Brexiteer Tory MPs have also demanded Mrs May ditch her plan to maintain close economic ties with the EU, which was set out in a 100-page white paper.
Standing alongside Mr Barnier at a press conference, Dominic Raab insisted both sides had moved closer to reaching a withdrawal agreement in time for a crunch EU summit at the end of October.
"We have proposed robust commitments to ensure trade is open and fair, and while I understand the EU’s underlying concern, the commitment to open and fair trade must of course be met on both sides," he said.
Mr Raab added: "The UK has set out our plans in detail. Those plans are ambitious, principled and pragmatic.
"I am committed to injecting new energy into these talks, along with Michel. We have agreed to meet again in mid-August.
"And then to continue weekly discussions to clear away all the obstacles that line our path, to a strong deal in October - one that works for both sides."
Labour MP Virendra Sharma, of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, said Mr Barnier had "savagely slapped down" the Prime Minister's plans.
He said: "Theresa May will have been watching the press conference through her fingers. It's incredibly embarrassing having to be told, once again, that the key element of your proposal is unworkable.
"Meanwhile, Dominic Raab was looking incredibly sullen for someone who was issuing a Brexit 'war cry' just this morning. He was only a foot away from Barnier - touching distance - but the gap between his position and that of Barnier was as gaping as ever.
"In one fell swoop, Barnier has essentially blown up May's Chequers plan. It's dead."
Fellow Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, of the People's Vote campaign group, said: "Once again the chaos and confusion at the heart of Brexit is exposed. Mrs May’s scheme could not command a majority in the Commons two weeks ago when she allowed the Brextremists to mutilate it. Now we know that hardly mattered because it was not acceptable to the EU in any case.
"There is only one way out of this mess and that is to have a people’s vote on the final outcome of the Brexit negotiations."