Belfast Telegraph

UK could seek EU customs union deal for individual sectors, suggests minister

Britain could seek a deal with Europe that would allow individual sectors of the economy to remain in the EU's customs union after Brexit, an international trade minister has suggested.

Greg Hands said that the UK would not face a "binary" choice between remaining within or moving outside the customs union when it negotiates its withdrawal from the EU.

Members of the customs union - which covers not only the 28 EU states, but also Turkey, Monaco, San Marino, Andorra and non-EU UK territories such as the Channel Islands - enjoy free trade with one another but must impose the same tariffs on goods arriving from outside the area, and are barred from doing bilateral trade deals with other countries.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Mr Hands suggested that the UK could be selective about which sectors of the economy it wished to be covered by the arrangement.

"You can choose which markets, which products the customs unions affect and which they don't, so there isn't a binary thing of being inside the customs union or outside of the customs union," said the international trade minister.

"The history of international trade has got all kinds of examples of customs unions."

His comments come after Brexit Secretary David Davis signalled the UK may also take a flexible approach to immigration controls after leaving the EU.

Mr Davis told business leaders on Thursday that post-Brexit changes to migration rules would not be allowed to damage the economy by creating labour shortages in key industries.

He told CBI Wales in Cardiff: "As we take back control of immigration by ending free movement as it has operated before, let me also say that we won't do so in a way which is contrary to the national economic interest.

"Because, as the Chancellor has said, Britain must win the global battle for talent.

"No-one wants to see labour shortages in key sectors. That won't be in anybody's interest."

A Downing Street spokesman said: "As we enter these negotiations to leave the EU, what is important is we get a deal that makes sure our economy is successful and is able to draw on the resources and talent we need to be successful.

"We have made no secret of the fact we will continue to encourage the brightest and best to come to Britain."

Number 10 played down reports that Prime Minister Theresa May had been snubbed by European Council president Donald Tusk, who failed to invite her to an end-of-year dinner with EU leaders at a Brussels summit.

A Government spokesman told the Press Association: "It is well known that Donald Tusk wanted to change the arrangements for the European Council and this timetable reflects those plans, with a one-day meeting instead of two.

"It is no surprise that the 27 other countries will meet after the European Council.

"Indeed it is recognition that the UK is leaving the EU and that our European partners need to prepare for the negotiations, just as we are, so that we can secure the best outcome for the UK and the EU."