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EU's Barnier blows a hole in PM's plan for customs after pullout

No delegating: Michel Barnier
No delegating: Michel Barnier

By Andrew Woodcock

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator has blown a hole in Theresa May's Chequers plan by flatly rejecting a key element of her proposals for future relations following UK withdrawal.

Central to the Prime Minister's plan, set out in a white paper a fortnight ago, is a "facilitated customs arrangement" under which tariffs charged at the border would be passed on to either the British or EU authorities, depending on the destination of imported goods.

Appearing alongside new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab following their second round of talks in Brussels, Michel Barnier said: "The EU cannot and the EU will not delegate the application of its customs policy and rules and VAT and excises duty collection to a non-member who would not be subject to the EU's governance structures."

Any customs arrangement or union "must respect this principle".

Anti-Brexit campaigners seized on the comments as proof Mrs May's exit strategy is "dead" and described the press conference as a "drive-by".

Mr Raab signalled that he is looking for compromise from Brussels in response to Mrs May's white paper, noting that the EU was able to take an "innovative" approach "when the political will has been there".

He added: "With ambition and pragmatism and energy on all sides, we can get there in October."

And he appeared to be making an attempt to separate the thorny issue of the Irish border from the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement which is due to be settled by October, repeatedly referring to a "protocol" on Northern Ireland.

Labour former Cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw, a supporter of the campaign for a fresh referendum, said: "The white paper is dead. It has expired. It has ceased to be. It has gone to join the choir invisible."

Liberal Democrat spokeswoman Christine Jardine said: "This leaves the Prime Minister's deal struggling to survive."

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