LONDON — Barriers to trade with the EU are “unavoidable” if the U.K. leaves the single market and customs union, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said at Downing Street Monday.
Speaking after lunch with Brexit Secretary David Davis, and a 20-minute meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May, Barnier said that the EU still needs more “clarity” from the U.K. on its plans for a “future partnership” with the bloc.
He added that the “time has come to make [a] choice,” for the British government, as officials sought to counter suggestions that the U.K. was softening its Brexit stance, insisting the country would be leaving the EU customs union and not be seeking a new U.K./EU customs union with the bloc.
Also speaking after the meeting, Davis repeated that the government was leaving the customs union but would be seeking “as frictionless as possible” customs arrangements in the future.
He added that a “great deal” had been published on the U.K.’s proposals for a customs agreement or customs partnership — a reference to the government’s August 2017 position paper on the subject.
However, Barnier was insistent that the EU still needed to know more about the U.K.’s overall intentions.
“We need also clarity about the U.K. proposals for the future partnership,” he said.
“The only thing I can say: Without a customs union and outside the single market barriers to trade in goods and services are unavoidable. [The] time has come to make [a] choice.”
Responding to Barnier’s comments, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We have said we want the customs arrangement to be as frictionless as possible and that is what we will be looking to achieve as part of the deep and special partnership we are seeking to achieve with the EU.”
The spokesman added that May and Barnier had met for around 20 minutes during which time they agreed it was important for both sides to “move quickly” to agree a transition period — referred to by the U.K. government as the “implementation period.”