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

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m going to guess you didn’t even bother to hear what the Irish Taoiseach had to say such is your conditioning to ignorance of the Irish state. I could almost read you turning your nose up at us humble Irish and our choice of politicans.

    Having seen your best attempt at trying to make Brexit work by Noel Edmunds like Astral Projections repeated by several others no one is going to be that inspired that the machinery of Brexit is any better than that broken clock in London.

    Your poor Brexit miscarriaging is no concern for Leo, the issue is the UK government’s heads are in the clouds and detached from the real world. Ireland is offering nothing to the Brexit begging bowl.

  • John Devane

    Much like your assumptions regarding a post Brexit deal. Guess work

    I read and listen to Leo. An affable individual with whom I fundamentally disagree. He’s a Remoaner

    Noel Edmond’s? I never knew he’s all for Brexit unlike that gormless t**t Gary smirking Lineker.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I was talking about Noel’s pantheistic beliefs which to be fair I would take more seriously than Brexit the Movie.

    Leo quite simply said that the UK cannot get the EU to be obliged to support a tailor made deal, that is quite right.

    How could any European politican say to their population people they need to put their shoulder to the wheel to make Britain work?

    Europe doesn’t live and die on British government whims alone, the British government does not have a single voter in the EU so all that disrespect for the EU27 including Ireland is only going to lead to..

    Ever Deeper Division.

    Sort out Brexit by working harder, investing wiser, conserving energy and recycling your goods because The EU is not in debt to the UK.

  • John Devane

    What Leo said is he hoped the UK would remain in the customs union and single market; that Brexit was a mistake. So much for respecting democracy. The EU referendum vote is clear. The UK is leaving the EU. All of it.

    Disrespect the EU 27? Leaving the EU is not disrespect, it’s showing the way to leave the EU without being blackmailed into reversing the democratic decision. The only be showing disrespect is Leo

    And before you get back on your high horse about ‘us Irish’ try to accept there is a widespread of differing Irish opinions on the EU than your own very blinkered faux nationalist one

  • Kevin Breslin

    Oh I can read the very snootiness in your writing, Europeans like Leo don’t understand that British democracy is a precious little flower that dictates to other nations what they are to do in the world.

    So snooty you’ve become you think Irish democratic decisions don’t matter, French democratic decisions don’t matter, German democratic decisions don’t matter … The only democracy that matters is the British and if foreigners don’t assist that democratic decision they are being annoying little Europhiles to you.

    What is your problem with the Irish people voting for parties who oppose the UK government’s version of Brexit? Don’t you want Ireland to be independent of Westminster?

    Tsk, that won’t do, that won’t do at all. Your Punch Cartoon assumptions about modern Ireland seem to be a sign of wanting even deeper divisions from it.

  • John Devane

    Your fertile imagination has the run of you with your absurd personal assumptions. A true sign you’re losing whatever argument you thought you possessed

    Leo is a pro EU Europhile. IMHO he’s on the wrong track but this won’t become apparent until the EU moves on with its political union objectives at the expense of EU member states such as Ireland. I sincerely hope that’s snooty enough

    Punch cartoons, disagree with Leo, the Famine……. anything else? Brexit will go ahead regardless because that is the democratic decision made by the UK Electorate. Or have you redefined democracy to mean something else?


    Ireland will always be inextricably linked to the UK.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Leo is being honest here, the U.K. Approach to doing things their own way and getting every other nation to nod and agree is utterly futile.

    Case and point Leo has nearly 26 EU nations on his side and the U.K. can’t even get the support of an Ireland they thought was a sure thing.

    Still the UK doesn’t need freinds if it has its own capabilities to fall back upon…
    Like planning … Wait nope.
    Research skills … Again nope
    Productivity? … Nope
    What about adaptability … Nope, can’t even deal with a few foreigners

    Seriously the UK government is like a teenager who knows GCSE algebra that gets much praise from envious freinds trying to lecture an advanced mathematics professor who understands quaternions and tensor feild theory.

    Brexit is being run into the ground by spoilt little rich kid Tories who have no genuine life experience, no matter how hands off the EU or Europhiles in the UK are its the Brexiteers that failed to plan that have got so many like myself planning for its failure.

  • John Devane

    The UK government has little choice than to enact the democratic mandate it has been given by the Referendum result to leave the EU.

    Leo is being honest with his own Europhile convictions and with what he sees as the Irish national self interest. Personally I fundamentally disagree with the whole EU political project and despair at the prospect of a closer Eurozone. Ireland will rue the day IMHO.

    Your concern regarding the UK’s ability to manage its own affairs in the big bad world is touching yet flies in the path of all the evidence. History tells us the UK will more than survive.

    Your doom n gloom analysis of prospects for Brexit almost makes me believe you’d actually welcome its failure. You really need some surgery on that chip on your shoulder

  • Kevin Breslin

    Nah, I see people who waste their time lecturing others on predictions of doom and gloom as those who make the littlest of efforts to prepare for said big bad world. You’ll grow out of your hatred of Europeans once you get to know a few.

    The UK is barely 310 years old and nearly a 100 year ago what is now the Republic of Ireland left it … Older nations have fallen apart, Babylonia didn’t survive, Mesopotamia didn’t survive … Heck you have probably never heard of the Sasanian Empire, that was 400 years old when it collapsed.

    The UK isn’t even the only UK,Norway have had 3 United Kingdoms (Kalmar, Denmark-Norway, Sweden-Norway), 2 before the English and Scots copied their model.

    But you are right, maybe the UK will get out of Brexit “Scot Free” after all.

    Get it? … I like puns.

  • John Devane

    You’re the one wasting time predicting doom n gloom for the UK post Brexit . Your hyperbole and hypocrisy are there for all to see as are your comic book lectures on history. However, as you say the demise of the EU has historical precedent

    Btw I have travelled extensively throughout the Middle East including Iran. You just stick to your bad puns

  • Kevin Breslin

    You still believe that Brexit is giving the UK some kind of power … well the UK had a lot of power and influence as an EU member, the reason why the UK government wants to leave the European Union is largely to abuse their own domestic power.

    That’s something they can of course risk doing but there will be consequences…

    Leaving the Single Market means having a Not in Common Market with the European Union which means that the trade in goods and services will be checked once those goods or services are moved onto non-domestic soil.

    Leaving the Customs Union means that UK exports likewise will face reputational damage in the European Market and will be subject to heavy dispute mechanisms across the European Union.

    Leaving the European Court of Justice, is pretty much an attempt to crackdown on personal liberties which will act as a deterrent to skilled foreign labour and a disincentive for foreign direct investment.

    As I said before the most critical thing that will destroy Brexit is the Brexiteers themselves, they are so obsessed with making foreigners and beurocrats and experts the enemy within, they forget that the real enemies within are themselves (as Varafakis quite rightly pointed out)

  • John Devane

    The Referendum was last June 2016……have you forgotten? The UK is leaving the EU by democratic choice. Your anti Brexit message had its chance last June. It lost.

    Leo merely pointed out his own wishful thinking. Far better if he accepted the new reality

  • Kevin Breslin

    Why should he accept your “reality” when you don’t accept any logical reality?

    You still believe you can have frictionless invisible borders between separate customs administrations.

    Sorry but Dr Varadkar is only trying to avoid a headache from the alcoholic noise makers next door, he also saying he’s not writing them any more Berocca prescriptions too, when they have to face up to their own self-inflicted customs border hangover.

  • John Devane

    The reality is the UK is leaving the EU. The logical reality is to deal with that fact. It’s unrealistic and wishful thinking to say “I wish Brexit wasn’t going to happen” which is Leo’s position

    The future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will only be fully known once the on-going UK / EU negotiations have concluded

    The UK government have proposed
    Remaining a member of the Common Transit Convention to facilitate the movement of goods
    New “trusted trader” arrangements would facilitate trade for larger companies, while smaller ones, accounting for more than 80 percent of cross-border trade, would be exempt from customs processes
    And all without a physical border……..negotiations are far from over

  • Kevin Breslin

    The future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will forever be left in limbo after the negotiations are concluded, because essentially that is what happens when you have two separate customs rules for two jurisdictions. As it was before the nations joined the EEC.

    There is no way to negotiate out of this, Irish customs sovereignty won’t be offered to the British and so it stands to reason that British and Irish governments will engage in hostilities as they did in the past given that they will use their own positions to uncompromisingly undermine the other.

    The British proposals are that word that rhymes with British but starts a Sh sound. They assume that the EU is going to remain dormant to an agreement that the UK can renege upon, clearly that is just going to end up in continuous WTO disputes with the UK in the dock as the UK cannot offer any type of agreement that any EU nation could really agree too.

    But then as with everything Brexit, creating inevitable divisions and increasing instability and disputes around the border inevitably fans the flames there.

    Brexit’s greatest flaw is that by undermining the producers of the nation for the sake of the consumers of the nation, it won’t be able to raise the money to buy the stuff they want anyway. The UK could be like a third world nation.

  • John Devane

    If for one moment your absurd polemic is accepted. What do you propose?

    I know. Ignore the democratic mandate to leave the EU and pretend, like Leo says, Brexit never happened………………then you woke up!

  • Kevin Breslin

    The future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be left in limbo after the negotiations are concluded, because essentially that is what happens when you have two separate customs rules for two jurisdictions. As it was before the nations joined the EEC.

    There is no way to negotiate out of this, Irish customs sovereignty won’t be offered to the British.

    The British proposals are that word that rhymes with British but starts a Sh sound.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There isn’t going to be a solution to the border, all the UK solutions so for are mere rhetorical “Brexit promises” … which to me are the equivalent to passing bowel gas in a closed room.

    The UK need to sign up to a treaty that maintains obligations in order for the EU to maintain any of the conveniences they had given to them. Like the open border that the UK could never have and didn’t manage on their own.

  • John Devane

    So let’s get this straight. In your opinion there cannot be a satisfactory arrangement for the Irish border ( apart from removing it altogether) and therefore what? The UK should just back out of Brexit and Remain inside the EU or Remain a deal facto member by staying inside the customs union?

    That is just wishful thinking. It is in effect saying there is no way the UK can leave the EU.

    Fortunately I’m less pessimistic than yourself

  • John Devane

    Sign up to any treaty? As in remain In the customs union? That is incompatible with Brexit. The UK is leaving. A deal will just have to be struck. As you don’t know how these negotiations will end you’re just indulging yourself with negative speculation.

  • Kevin Breslin

    What is so hard for you to understand? Staying outside a common customs union is incompatible with having frictionless free trade. This will be proven when UK trading partners show contempt to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. That is just a Fact of Life.

    If the EU are to make the UK transition easier and the U.K. really need it to be easier then it is clear good will and good faith are not enough, there needs to be third party arbitration or the chances of a chaotic Brexit escalate.

    That’s hardly speculation that is the nature of any mature partnership.

    Just like Rugby, Football and Cricket even when the English do originally set the rules, rarely do they win anything. However even when the Brexiteers are trying to rely on despairation and unsportsmanlike conduct in these negotiations it sounds clear that the vigalant population of the European Union aren’t going to give the UK anything on customs, trade, tariffs etc while the United Kingdom is clearly uncommitted to basic quid pro quo reciprocity.

    Treaties put in with the U.N. are needed to make this a binding partnership because Europe is too smart to treat UK diktats at face value, the World is getting too smart for it too.

  • John Devane

    You are second guessing at best. You haven’t a clue what the final negotiated outcome will be. Any discussion is pure speculation and in your case speculation coloured by your very negative anti Brexit Europhile interpretation.

    Btw as an Ireland fan I’m first to admit England have under performed in sport. A football and rugby world cup is not a lot but I’d take it for Ireland especially for the plastics…..God (if there is one) bless them!

  • Kevin Breslin

    And the only reason why sport functions is because of international and national (and often continental bodies) setting a common set of rules.

    Brexit seems to be about one rule for them another rule for us, particularly with regards to Ireland.

    Even the most Anglophilic Eurosceptic Irish politican wouldn’t accept what the UK is offering because it is extremely thin on commitments to the EU and extremely thick on the EU maintaining commitments to the UK.

    If the UK wants a casual relationship with the EU then really it is going to get the treatment abroad that a third party the EU has a casual relationship with like say Cuba.

  • John Devane

    This is the negotiations phase where there are offers, counter offers, bluffs, double bluffs, you name it. It’s unwise to make up your mind now when you have no idea on the final agreement.

    Yes I like the analogy between FIFA and the EU. Corrupt sums them up perfectly.

    As you tend to rely on assuming that people that disagree with you are irrational, then the problem really is you.

    It is quite possible to make a sensible case both for remaining and for leaving. They are simply different ways of prioritising all the pros and cons. If you cannot even imagine the other side of the debate then you yourself are basing your decision on highly limited information. In which case, it just might be you that needs to reassess your position or at least respect the view contrary to your own.