A customs partnership after Brexit would make it easier to deal with the Irish border question, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.
Theresa May’s Brexit “war cabinet” met again on Tuesday without reaching agreement on which of the two options for customs arrangements on the Irish border – the “customs partnership” and “maximum facilitation” models – it will back.
The EU is putting pressure on Britain to present its preferred option at a meeting of the European Council in June, although Downing Street insists it will not put a timetable on the process.
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said: “Both of the customs options that are on the table could potentially be made to work.
“There is no doubt that a customs partnership hybrid model makes the Irish border situation easier, there is no doubt that the question of the Irish border is resolved by the customs partnership in an easier way than maximum facilitation.”
The Irish border is one of the most vexed issues facing Brexit negotiators.
Under a customs partnership an external tariff common with the EU would be imposed when goods entered the UK and they would be able to move “seamlessly” across the island of Ireland, Ms Bradley told the EU Scrutiny Committee at Westminster.
That could assuage the worries of businesses that trade across the Irish border which are seeking frictionless trade.
We want to solve the issue of the Irish border through the overall EU/UK relationshipKaren Bradley
Ms Bradley said she was keeping an open mind about both options.
She reiterated her position on the EU’s “backstop” option on the border which would see alignment of Northern Ireland-related matters with the EU.
She said: “We don’t want the backstop to happen. We want to solve the issue of the Irish border through the overall EU/UK relationship.
“Option B is that we resolve it through both the UK/EU relationship but with specific provisions for the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland.
“The backstop is not where anyone wants to be.”