The latest proposals by the UK Government to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic have been comprehensively rejected by the European Union, it has been reported.
In a move that casts doubt on the UK’s ability to leave the customs union post-Brexit, senior EU sources briefed the Telegraph that Theresa May’s border plan was this week subject to a “systematic and forensic annihilation” at a meeting in Brussells on Wednesday.
Mrs May had previously set out the UK’s customs policy in a speech last month.
“It was a detailed and forensic rebuttal,” a source told the paper. “It was made clear that none of the UK’s customs options will work. None of them.”
The UK Government will be forced to go back to the drawing board despite undertaking five rounds of technical negotiations with the EU so far.
The set-back follows the Government’s defeat in the House of Lords over the Withdrawal Bill, with peers backing an amendment that favours staying in the customs union.
The Telegraph reported that UK negotiators were left “shocked” by the inflexibility of the EU, despite being aware of scepticism towards the British plan.
Mrs May said in her speech last month that remaining in the customs union would “not be compatible with a meaningful independent trade policy”. She proposed two options for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland.
The first was a so-called ‘customs partnership’ in which the UK would collect duties on the EU’s behalf for goods bound for the EU.
This move was flatly rejected by the EU as it would not allow “a country outside its supervision mechanism” to levy duties.
SNP Stephen Gethins MP commented: “We are just 10 weeks away from the crunch summit at which the Irish border issue was due to be settled – and less than one year away before the UK plans to leave the EU – yet astonishingly, the UK government has failed to deliver any meaningful solution.
“Earlier this week the UK government suffered a humiliating defeat in the House of Lords over the UK’s continued membership of the customs union. A day later, the influential cross-party Liaison Committee has pushed for a debate over the customs union, and now the EU has reportedly rebuked Theresa May’s plans. The UK government can no longer continue being deaf to the growing chorus of calls to protect our economy, businesses and labour market by remaining in the customs union.
“There is clear momentum and political support for the UK to remain in the customs union.
“The Tory government must bring to an end their pandering to the extreme Tory Brexiteers, whose agenda will do untold damage to the economy and jobs for years to come.
“The SNP has consistently called on the UK government to support Scotland and the UK’s membership of the customs union – which is crucial in protecting businesses and the living standards of millions of people across the UK.”