Central to Mrs May’s plan, set out in a white paper a fortnight ago, is a “facilitated customs arrangement”. Tariffs charged at the Border would be passed on to either the British or EU authorities, depending on the destination of imported goods.
But appearing alongside new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab following their second round of talks in Brussels, Michel Barnier (pictured) left no doubt that this was not acceptable to the EU.
“The EU cannot and the EU will not delegate the application of its customs policy and rules and VAT and excises duty collection to a non-member who would not be subject to the EU’s governance structures,” he said.
Anti-Brexit campaigners seized on the comments as proof Mrs May’s exit strategy is “dead” and described the press conference as a “drive-by”.
Mr Raab signalled he is looking for compromise from Brussels. He appeared to be making an attempt to separate the thorny issue of the Irish Border from the rest of the withdrawal agreement which is due to be settled by October, repeatedly referring to a “protocol” on Northern Ireland.
But Mr Barnier also made clear that Brussels still has reservations about Mrs May’s proposed “backstop” arrangement for the Border, which would see the whole UK matching EU trade tariffs if a trade deal is not reached by 2021.
“We have no objection in principle to this but we have doubts it can be done without putting at risk the integrity of our customs union or commercial policy or regulatory policy,” said Mr Barnier.