David Davis lays cards on the table: Brexit secretary sets out vision for new customs arrangement

William Turvill
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Brexit talks will recommence between the UK and EU on 28 August (Source: Getty)

Brexit secretary David Davis will today begin to lay out the government’s negotiating cards, calling for a new customs arrangement with the EU after the UK's departure from the bloc.

Among the proposals is a plan for a transitional period in which the UK would be part of "a temporary customs union" with the EU, while remaining free to "negotiate bold new trade relationships around the world".

The Department for Exiting the European Union (DexEU) publishes the proposals this morning, as part of a series of “future partnership papers” ahead of the next round of Brexit talks starting at the end of this month.

Today's paper, setting out the UK’s plans for a customs agreement, comes despite Brussels’ insistence that the EU will not discuss a new relationship before Brexit terms are agreed.

Writing exclusively in City A.M., Davis today said that new customs arrangements will need to “facilitate the freest and most frictionless possible trade in goods between the UK and the EU”.

In a move aimed at comforting businesses concerned about uncertainty, DexEU also said the government would seek to negotiate an interim period with the EU in order to avoid “unnecessary disruption”.

“That would be a strong indicator to all of our businesses and citizens that politicians on both sides are serious about finding a constructive outcome that works for all involved. Doing so is our shared duty,” Davis said.

“The united desire to avoid unnecessary disruption or a disorderly exit for the United Kingdom from the European Union is a strong foundation for the negotiations.”

The paper, and in particular the interim proposal, has been welcomed by business groups.

Allie Renison, head of EU and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “There will be a great sigh of relief amongst businesses in the UK to see the government taking a pragmatic approach to transition as we look at how best to Brexit.

“Replicating as far as possible our current customs arrangements with the EU for this interim period is crucial to allow necessary time to develop long term solutions – particularly for the Irish border.

“We look forward to finally engaging on the detail of both short- and long-term negotiating options with our own Government and crucially, the EU.”

Miles Celic, chief executive of TheCityUK, said: “An interim customs period with the EU to allow businesses the time to adjust once a new customs relationship is agreed is vital to ensuring a smooth and orderly Brexit. This is a key concern for the customers and clients our industry serves.”

Davis also said that he wants a customs agreement that will create a “stronger, fairer and more prosperous UK” and ensure that there is no return to Ireland-Northern Ireland borders. To achieve this, he is willing to take two approaches: creating a “highly streamlined customs arrangement”, reducing and removing barriers to trade; or launching a “new customs partnership with the EU, based on aligning our customs approaches”.

Henry Newman, director of Open Europe, told City A.M. that the positioning of the UK, in this paper and others to be published, was “long overdue”. He said that it could give the UK a boost in negotiations, adding: “The person who gets the first draft in is always at an advantage.”

Josh Hardie, the CBI’s deputy director general, said: “Companies will welcome the progress government has made today in publishing these papers. Over the past year, businesses have been providing policymakers with the evidence, ideas and solutions to make a success of Brexit.

“So it’s encouraging to see that these papers propose a time-limited interim period and a customs system that is as barrier-free as possible.”

Read more: Trade the Customs Union for deals that benefit the developing world

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