EU warns United Kingdom on impact of exiting customs unions

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European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier meets his British opposite number, Brexit Secretary David Davis, in London.

Britain has ruled out staying in any customs union with the EU after Brexit, but the nature of its trading relationship with the world's biggest trading bloc has split Theresa May's government and Conservative Party.

He added that "without a customs union and outside the single market", barriers to trade in goods and services "are unavoidable".

The meetings on Wednesday and Thursday will each last for two hours and will focus on some of the thorniest remaining issues surrounding Brexit, including the customs union.

Those who say Theresa May should be more assertive over Brexit are the self-same politicians, and others, who would be criticising the Tory leader if she tried to circumvent the Cabinet on Britain's future alignment, or otherwise, with the customs union.

The intervention by Downing Street sought to draw a line after days of sometimes confused messages from the top of Government about the approach to future customs arrangements.

In a position paper published in August 2017, the United Kingdom had set out two potential options for future long-term customs operations with the EU. It said: "To put this to rest, we are categorically leaving the customs union".

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Terms of the transition deal will be on the negotiating table this week, with key issues up for debate including immigration, Britain's ability to strike third-party trade deals, and whether Britain will have to abide by new European Union laws.

But Barnier said that "we need clarity" ahead of talks starting in April, adding that he expected an official position from London "in the next few weeks".

The talks would primarily deal with the nature of the transition period, but might touch on the future UK/EU relationship, he said. "To govern is to choose", said Lord Bridges, former Brexit minister, urging Mrs May to get a grip as her cabinet holds two key meetings this week to discuss the Brexit "end state".

Her answer: "That is such a hard question on so many different levels, I'm going to pass". "We look forward to a similar commitment of cooperation from European counterparts on this matter". People will be free to live and work here. I don't think they want to topple her because I think toppling her might really result in a new election, and I'm not sure they'd win then.

"What we are working on now is ensuring that what we agreed back in December is fully reflected" in a legal document, said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday. "I think this point is increasingly understood on both sides".

The Prime Minister refused to directly engage with a question on whether she would like vocal Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg to be more circumspect, after pro-EU Tory MP Anna Soubry claimed the Government was "in hock to 35 hard ideological Leavers" like the pair.

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