The EU suggests Theresa May's Brexit plans could be illegal

GettyMichel Barnier
  • Michel Barnier says UK plans for a “customs partnership” with EU could be illegal under European law.
  • “How could the EU delegate the application of EU tariffs to a country that is no longer a member state, that is no longer subject to our rules of governance? Is it legally feasible?” he told a press conference.
  • He also raised several practical problems with the plan, including the “major risk of fraud,” and significant financial and administrative costs for businesses.
  • “Brexit cannot and will not justify additional bureaucracy,” he said.

LONDON – The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has cast firm doubt over Theresa May’s plan for post-Brexit customs arrangements, suggesting they could be illegal under EU law and warning that they could create “a major risk of fraud.”

Speaking on Friday, Michel Barnier said Theresa May’s plan for a post-Brexit customs partnership – which would see the UK collecting tariffs on the EU’s behalf – raised the “fundamental question” of whether they were workable under European law.

“Such a complex system would … raise a much more fundamental question: How could the EU delegate the application of EU tariffs to a country that is no longer a member state, that is no longer subject to our rules of governance? Is it legally feasible?” he told a press conference.

The customs partnership plan was published by the UK in a long-awaited Brexit white paper last week. The arrangement would see the UK collect tariffs on EU goods at the border and the EU enforce the same arrangement for UK goods.

UK officials believe the plan would ensure that no new border emerges between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but the complex plan is seen by EU negotiators as unworkable, politically unfavourable, and overly complex.

“Brexit cannot and will not justify additional bureaucracy,” he said.

Barnier also raised several practical problems with the plan, including the “major risk of fraud,” and significant financial and administrative costs for businesses under the new dual system, and suggesting the UK operating lower tariffs than the EU would hand them a competitive advantage which damaged the EU 27 countries financially.

Barnier’s damning words followed a first meeting with the UK’s new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, which he said had been a “very useful and very cordial meeting.”

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