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1ST LEAD Minister: Britain will not join a customs union after Brexit By Bill Smith, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
London (dpa) - Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May‘s cabinet has agreed that Britain will not join any customs union after it leaves the European Union, a minister said on Friday, putting the government at odds with pro-EU Conservative rebels.

May held a meeting of senior ministers to discuss differences over Brexit on Thursday, ahead of a speech to reaffirm her latest position next Friday.

European Council President Donald Tusk plans to travel to London to meet May the day before her speech, his office said.

Anticipation is growing that opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will use his speech on Monday to indicate a shift in policy and support Britain negotiating a new customs arrangement once it leaves the EU customs union in March 2019.

If Corbyn changes his position, most Labour lawmakers are likely to vote with Conservative rebels who have tabled an amendment to May‘s trade bill in parliament, to keep Britain in a form of customs union with the EU.

But Health Minister Jeremy Hunt told told BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme that the government is determined that Britain will "take back control of our laws."

"And I think the key point here is that it‘s perfectly possible to have frictionless trade without being in a customs union," said Hunt, who is a cabinet member but was not at Thursday‘s meeting.

Asked if the government could compromise if it faces a likely defeat in parliament on the trade bill, he said: "No, because if we were a part of the customs union, we wouldn‘t be able to negotiate trade deals independently with other countries and we wouldn‘t have full sovereign control of our destiny as a nation."

Conservative Anna Soubry, the author of the trade bill amendment, on Friday said she and her allies "want the best economic Brexit deal" that also supports the Good Friday Agreement, which underpins the peace process in Northern Ireland.

"It‘s about pragmatic solutions bringing people and business together, recognizing voters rejected hard Brexit in June [at a general election] and that we‘re only now having a proper debate about Brexit," Soubry wrote on Twitter.

May‘s critics have warned that any form of checks at the Irish border after Brexit could jeopardize Northern Ireland‘s peace process.

But EU officials say border checks are inevitable unless Britain and Northern Ireland remain in the EU customs union or create "full regulatory alignment" with Ireland.

In another sticking point with EU negotiators, May‘s office said on Friday that her position "remains the same" on reducing the residency rights of EU citizens who arrive during a transition period after Brexit.

May said EU citizens arriving during the transition must be subject to different rules, but EU officials insist that all EU citizens must continue to accrue the same rights until the end of the transition.

The two sides also differ on the length of the transition, with the European Union proposing 21 months and Britain wanting a longer term of "around two years" after it leaves the bloc in March 2019.


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