Michel Barnier: Trade barriers ‘unavoidable’ if Britain quits customs union

Posted On: 
5th February 2018

Michel Barnier has said Britain will face "unavoidable" trade barriers if it chooses to quit the customs union and single market after Brexit.

Michel Barnier and David Davis at Downing Street this afternoon
PA Images

The EU's chief negotiator also said "the time had come" for the UK to outline the type of relationship it wanted with the bloc after Brexit, following a meeting with David Davis and Theresa May at Number 10.

His comments come after Downing Street last night insisted the UK would "categorically" not be in any kind of customs union with the EU after Brexit.

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Instead, the Government has said it wants to strike either a "highly-streamlined customs arrangement" or a new "customs partnership" with the EU.

But in a press conference this afternoon, Mr Barnier said Britain could not quit the customs union without its businesses being forced to pay tariffs.

“We need clarity about the UK’s proposals for the future partnership," he said.  "The only thing I can say is without a customs union and outside the single market, barriers to trade and goods and services are unavoidable. The time has come to make a choice.”

Mr Barnier reiterated that Britain would have to follow the same rules that it does now during the two-year implementation period following the March 2019 Brexit date.

He added: "The conditions are very clear, everyone has to play by the same rules during this transition."

Mr Davis said the UK had been "perfectly clear" on what they wanted from the talks.

“We’ve said in terms we want a comprehensive free trade agreement and with it a customs agreement and to make that as frictionless as possible, to make as much trade as currently exists as free as possible, while still giving ourselves the opportunity to make free trade deals with the rest of the world," he said.

The Brexit Secretary added that an "intensive" period of negotiations on the transition deal would start immediately in anticipation of an agreement by March.

Following the press call at Downing Street Mr Davis tweeted that talks with his EU counterpart had been "constructive".