British position papers on customs union and Northern Ireland imminent – Politico website exclusive

Britain is about to show its hand in Brexit negotiations in plans that reveal the U.K. wants a smooth route out of the European Union.

The U.K. will seek a transitional customs agreement with the EU before moving to a new permanent relationship under plans sent to relevant members of Theresa May’s Cabinet for agreement before being published later this month, according to senior government officials.

The proposal — if it is agreed politically — will be set out in an official “position paper” that has been penciled in for publication the week of August 14, an official familiar with the content of the paper said. A second position paper, outlining the government’s long-awaited “solution” to the Northern Ireland border issue, which the U.K. considers bound up with its customs relationship with the EU, has been earmarked for publication the same week, officials said.

The position papers will form part of what officials described as a “big push” to counter a perception among the EU27 that the U.K. is underprepared for Brexit. They are the first of up to a dozen U.K. position papers to be published by the government over the next two months, ahead of the crucial October European Council summit, as set out to POLITICO in conversations with five senior U.K. government officials involved in the preparations for Brexit.

But while the EU is likely to welcome the emerging clarity in London’s position, senior U.K. aides said the government remains determined to hold back on resolving how much the U.K. must pay to settle what the EU sees as its financial liabilities, a move that is likely to infuriate Brussels.

The U.K. is also insistent that the Irish border question must be considered alongside future customs arrangements, something the EU wants to delay until its first three priorities are resolved.

Customs arrangements ‘critical’

While Britain’s future customs agreement with the EU is not on the agenda for this month’s Brexit talks, the U.K. believes the issue is “inextricably linked” to the Northern Ireland question, which Brussels has demanded progress on. By publishing the two documents together before the talks in Brussels, London hopes to persuade Barnier that the two cannot be dealt with separately.

Under the original plan drawn up in Whitehall, with input from No. 10 Downing Street, the position papers were set to be published in two tranches — one before the August talks in Brussels and the second before the next round in September.

However, the publication dates are now in flux, according to aides familiar with the discussions. Officials have even discussed publishing them all simultaneously this month in a show of force to counter accusations that the British government does not have a plan.

The customs paper is regarded by the U.K.’s Brexit team as being of “critical importance,” according to one senior government official involved in the planning process who asked to remain anonymous.

Northern Ireland proposal

Both sides agree Northern Ireland is a priority, though neither has yet put forward a proposal to manage the land border without destabilizing peace in the region once the U.K. leaves the bloc.

London hopes its position paper will break the deadlock on the issue, which is being managed directly by Britain’s leading Brexit official Oliver Robbins, the permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union and May’s EU sherpa, and by Barnier’s deputy Sabine Weyand.

Northern Ireland is viewed by the EU27 as an exit issue — and therefore a priority for the initial phases of Brexit talks — but Britain believes a resolution depends heavily upon issues that the EU considers to be part of the future relationship bucket of issues, namely customs and transition.

The position paper dedicated to Northern Ireland will set out the U.K.’s long-awaited proposals for avoiding a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland. While officials declined to share details of the plan, the U.K. government has been considering technical fixes —  such as camera recognition technology and pre-registered cargo — to minimize the need for physical border check points.

London is not convinced by arguments, made recently by Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, that the matter cannot be resolved by such “technical solutions.” One of the U.K. officials said Coveney’s comments, to RTÉ in July, had been “premature.”

The British have been “taken aback” by the more assertive tone of the new Irish administration, under Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the official added. On Friday, Varadkar called on the U.K., if it must leave the EU customs union, to join a new bilateral customs union with the EU similar to Turkey’s.

With talks due to resume in the last week of August, both sides in the negotiation will soon find out exactly how far they are apart on key issues



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  • John Devane

    Merely pointing out the fallacy of your conspiracy theory.

    The UK, just like any other independent country should be able to, has decided to exercise its democratic right to leave the EU.

    What part of the democratic process do you object to? Oh it didn’t receive your approval I think we can live with it

    I suspect your main reading source is your own blog echoing your very bitter Europhile view or just some LibDem rag wondering why their EU manifesto saw them annihilated once again

  • Kevin Breslin

    I get it you want the UK isolated and deeper divided from a threatening Europe … that’s fine by me.

    Just stop complaining when the rest of the world cuts the UK out of the picture in the same manner. Other nations have the self-determination to get out of

    In terms of British-Irish co-operation well that is completely over if the British simply want to cast Irish operations in it out of the picture, which so far they seem to have done.

    The UK government’s non-attendance at Dáil Éireann and contempt for the GFA British Irish bodies pretty much is telling people that the British government relationship with Ireland is completely autistic and free from any Irish feedback.

    You cannot build special relationships like that, but to a Brexiteer it is the perfect chance for Even Deeper Divisions.

    You see creating Divisions gives people the appearance of power, however it is through making unions of purpose like the European Union where mutual co-operation can be exercised.

    When you get afraid of other countries and want to feel like you have some power over them, Division and Distance seem like awesome levels of controls … in reality it’s just a permission slip to other countries to cut your nation out of their business.

    Starting with Ireland.

  • John Devane

    The Referendum vote is over. The decision is to Leave the EU. No point in rehashing your angst and spite over a democratic decision you dislike. Best to make that long awaited journey into the new reality. The UK will no longer be an EU member state. The plus and negative sides to that decision……almost 100% positive IMHO……have to be worked out.

    Decrying Brexit doesn’t alter the fact that Ireland has important economic, social, political and a long standing historical relationship with the UK. Saying you’re going to take your toys away because of Brexit is palpable nonsense. Ireland and the UK will have to make the best of it without the all encompassing EU pushing for its ever closer union. The UK doesn’t want it.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Do you not want ever deeper divisions?
    Do you not want disputes with every form of business made with other European nation?
    Do you not want trade disagreements with everyone?

    Thought you lot wanted the chance to show the world how great the United Kingdom is all by itself with no friends!

    Let’s face it, Ireland imports more and exports more to the rest of the EU than the UK, it didn’t break away from a nation that left them to starve just to have its agriculture rules undermined from Westminster.

    The Brexiteers want deeper divisions, that’s fine.

    This cry for love behaviour where they ask Ireland to be its loving doormat however won’t go down well with the Irish people.

    I dare the UK to prove how out of touch they are with Ireland while trying to demand Dublin does all it can to accommodate this delusional borderless Hard Brexit.

    Even the most Eurosceptic/Europhobic Irish Republican would realise it is British rule by the backdoor.

  • John Devane

    Leaving the EU does not equate with deeper division. It is infact an elected move away from an ever closer union … objective written into the EU defacto constitution as opposed to the division quackery inside your head

    ‘left to starve’…..Are you bringing in the Famine / Great Hunger from the 1840’s? Desperate….just as desperate as your counter factual prophecies regarding British army invasions.

    My advice to you is take a long lie down and avoid letting your emotions make an ass of you
    Try to keep debate with the realms of reality as opposed to your gross flights of fantasy

  • Kevin Breslin

    The driving purpose of Brexit was for Ever Deeper Divisions, that is undeniable reality. That’s the emotion that drove Leave EU, Grassroots Out, Vote Leave, the Conservatives and UKIP, it drives the DUP too.

    Fear and Loathing, Loathing and Fear … pretty much made up 90% of the the Brexit movie script even using Project Fear as a Loathing mechanism.

    Brexit is a non-conservative force. The idea that the European Union including the Republic of Ireland is going to go out of their way to let the United Kingdom to keep the best bits as a non-member at great expense to themselves is a laughable Brexit delusion.

    It is 2017 and the British Empire is dead.

    If the Brits want to burn bridges in the name of their freedom they can go ahead, just don’t ask to be invited back to Ireland and France and the rest on your own terms.

  • John Devane

    Poor old Leo……he just wants Brexit to be a bad dream. Like you he will have to wake up

    The biggest issue the UK has had to make since 1939 was in respect of Remaining or Leaving the EU.
    And 84% voted for Parties that have the policy of Leaving. If a Majority wanted to Remain then the LibDems would be the government, as their No1 policy was to overturn the Referendum and stay in the EU

    The negotiations will involve some hardball tactics by both sides. It’s the final outcomes that count; And they remain unknown at present