PM May says Britain will leave customs union, to offer Ireland backstop

Prime Minister Theresa May. (Reuters)
Updated 17 May 2018
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PM May says Britain will leave customs union, to offer Ireland backstop

  • The United Kingdom will be leaving the customs union as we’re leaving the European Union: May
  • May said the objectives were that Britain should have its own trade policy with the rest of the world, should have frictionless trade with the EU and that there be no hard border with EU member Ireland

SOFIA: Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday Britain would leave the EU customs union after Brexit but a source said London was considering a backstop plan that would apply the bloc’s external tariffs beyond December 2020.
Asked about reports that London would ask to stay in the European Union’s customs area beyond the end of a post-Brexit transition period in 2020, May denied she was “climbing down” on plans to leave.
“No. The United Kingdom will be leaving the customs union as we’re leaving the European Union. Of course, we will be negotiating future customs arrangements with the European Union and I’ve set three objectives,” May told reporters on the sidelines of an EU summit in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.
She said the objectives were that Britain should have its own trade policy with the rest of the world, should have frictionless trade with the EU and that there be no hard border with EU member Ireland.
In talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, she reiterated her view that a backstop agreement put forward by Brussels to prevent a hard border was “unacceptable.”
“The prime minister said the UK would shortly put forward its own backstop proposal in relation to customs,” her spokeswoman said.
Earlier, the source, who is familiar with the discussions, said on condition of anonymity the government was trying to find a way to make the backstop arrangement more acceptable to Britain rather than seeking an extension of a transition period.
The source said Britain could apply the EU’s external tariffs for a limited period beyond December 2020 in the case of a delay in the implementation of any Brexit deal.
May’s spokeswoman said negotiations on the backstop arrangement were continuing, and that Britain did not want or expect to have to use it.
May has been struggling to unite her cabinet over the terms of Britain’s divorce with the EU, with a row over future customs arrangement dividing her government and all but stalling Brexit negotiations.
EU leaders meeting May in Sofia on Thursday were “in listening mode” and hoping for reassurances from her, said one official, before a formal summit in June when the sides want to mark another milestone in the negotiations.
That is needed to seal a final divorce deal in October, leaving the EU enough time to ratify it by Brexit day in March 2019.
Britain otherwise risks crashing out of the bloc, a scenario that could hurt the economy and disrupt people’s lives.

Under pressure
The EU says this schedule is coming under pressure as there has been not enough progress in the negotiations in recent months, most importantly on how to avoid physical controls on the border between the Irish Republic and the British province of Northern Ireland.
“It is an absolute red line for us that there could not be a hard border on Ireland,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters in Sofia.
If no better ideas emerge, the bloc wants the backstop clause under which it would go on regulating trade in Northern Ireland after Brexit to prevent a hard border. Both sides fear a return of border controls could reignite the violence that afflicted Northern Ireland until a peace deal in the late 1990s.
“We have a text which is the Irish backstop ... and we need that to be part of the withdrawal agreement. And if it is not part of the withdrawal agreement, then there will be no withdrawal agreement,” Varadkar said.
Under such a scenario, Britain would not be given the adaptation period from next March to the end of 2020, but go straight into being out of the EU with little detail agreed on how to handle its ties with the bloc.
May has said as it stood in March, the EU’s backstop was unacceptable because it would cut off Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
The source said extending the use of EU tariffs was part of discussions to make the backstop arrangement more palatable to Britain, and could be triggered if there were a delay in the ratification of the Brexit deal or if there were problems introducing new technology at the border.
At home, May has to balance the demands of Brexit supporters against those ministers who want to keep the closest possible ties to the EU, and any hint that Britain could stay within the customs union has become a flashpoint.
The EU says that would be the best way to avoid a hard Irish border.
“If we are not making real substantial progress by June then we need to seriously question whether we are going to have a withdrawal agreement at all,” Varadkar said.


Pakistan’s 21-member Cabinet is sworn in, Imran Khan pledges change

Updated 9 min 11 sec ago
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Pakistan’s 21-member Cabinet is sworn in, Imran Khan pledges change

  • President Mamnoon Hussain administered the oath of office to 16 federal ministers in Islamabad
  • Separately, Prime Minister Imran Khan has also appointed five advisers to his Cabinet

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s 21-member Cabinet was sworn in Monday, a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged to cut government spending, end corruption and repatriate public funds.
President Mamnoon Hussain administered the oath of office to 16 federal ministers in Islamabad. Separately, Khan has also appointed five advisers to his Cabinet.
Khan, whose populist party won most parliament seats in the July 25 elections but fell short of a majority, forcing it to form a coalition, took the oath of office on Saturday as Pakistan’s 22nd premier. He campaigned on promises of rooting out endemic corruption and breaking powerful landowners’ monopoly on political power.
“I want to see Pakistan a great country” with social services for the poor, Khan said.
Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said after taking his oath of office that he is aware of foreign policy challenges ahead. Foreign policy, he said, will be revised and set on the correct path, in the “interest of Pakistan.”
Qureshi said he would reach out to counterparts in the region and focus on key issues of critical importance to Pakistan.
“Pakistan needs a peaceful and stabilized Afghanistan; our future is linked to peace in Afghanistan” Qureshi said. He said he wants to visit Kabul soon with a message that “we have to help and support each other and have to look for solutions of each other’s problems.”
Both neighboring India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and cannot afford any adventure, he said. “We have long standing, complex problems and have no option but to start a dialogue.”
He welcomed that Indian Prime Minister Modi in a congratulatory message to Khan expressed desire for talks.
As for ties with the United States, Qureshi said Pakistan wants bilateral relations based on respect and trust.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to make a stop in Islamabad on his way to India and Afghanistan in the first week of September.
“There is a trust deficit in our relations from both sides and we have to bridge it” Qureshi said of US and Pakistan. “In meetings with the US secretary of state, I will boldly apprise him of our aspirations.”