Ivan Rogers warns it's 'crunch time' as max fac customs option will not be accepted by Brussels

Catherine Neilan
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Rogers: They won't be accepted in the real world (Source: Getty)

The UK's former ambassador to the EU has rubbished both the government's customs proposals saying they would not fly "in the real world", warning: "We're heading for a major crunch".

Ivan Rogers, who was one of the most senior civil servants until he resigned last year in frustration at Theresa May's handling of the Brexit process, told MPs neither max fac - favoured by Brexiters and tipped to become official policy - or the new customs partnership were likely to be waved through by Brussels.

"Max fac doesn’t solve the [Irish border] problem as other see it, so they don’t understand why max fac is on the table at all," he told the Home Affairs Committee. "However facilitated at the border, it’s still a border, and still demonstrably different from what we’ve got now. So I don’t think you’ll ever get max fac agreed, personally."

He also rubbished the new customs partnership as "complex, to put it mildly".

"We don’t know whether the technology could be devised. It certainly doesn’t exist at the moment," he said. It involves us operating as a third country power, policing the external border of the European Union, and then an extraordinarily elaborate machinery for remitting back to importers the difference between what our tariff rates have become once we use our sovereign trade policy and what the EU [does].

If you were confronted by that from the other side of the table, and that were Europeans putting it to us and saying, could we police your external border of your external customs union, and operate that, I can imagine what the UK systems answer would be.

As a result, Brussels was close to saying "neither max fac nor new customs partnership is a runner then, you know, you don’t need to be in my shoes to say we’re heading for a major crunch".

Echoing Phillip Lee, the justice minister who resigned this morning over the government's handling of the process, he stressed that it was time to acknowledge its complexity which was not "messing up Brexit or undermining it or reversing it, or anything. It’s saying: you’ve got a huge number of areas where you’re extricating yourself from the existing relationship and the existing acquis [body of EU law], which is thousands and thousands and thousands of pages long."

He added: "This is a revolutionary system change. If you take Brexit seriously, which I do, you can;’t say, we can do all that in a jiffy. It’s not going to happen."

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