The Guardian / BBC reports that Michel Barnier has warned that attempts to appeal to EU leaders over his head were a waste of time, as he tore up Theresa May’s proposals on customs after Brexit, in effect killing off the Chequers plan.
Against a backdrop of British cabinet ministers travelling across Europe to persuade governments of the benefits of the proposals, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator insisted that there was no difference in opinion to exploit.
“Anyone who wants to find a sliver of difference between my mandate and what the heads of government say they want, are wasting their time, quite frankly,” he told reporters at a joint press conference with the new Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, in Brussels.
The British negotiators have become increasingly frustrated with the EU’s attitude to the white paper thrashed out at the prime minister’s country retreat, and fear that it will take an intervention by leaders, most likely at a summit in Salzburg in September, to move the dial in favour of a deal.
A number of cabinet ministers have been despatched around EU capitals to make their case for greater flexibility.
The impasse in the negotiations were laid bare in the press conference in the European commission’s Berlaymont headquarters.
To avoid customs checks after Brexit, the government wants an unprecedented system, where the UK would collect EU duties, while having the freedom to set different tariffs on goods destined for the British market.
The plan would allow the UK to make its own free trade deals around the world, while not losing the benefits of frictionless trade to and from the rest of Europe.
But echoing the language of Theresa May on her goals for Brexit, Barnier, responded: “Maintaining control of our money, law and borders also applies to the EU customs policy. The EU cannot and will not delegate the application of its customs policy and rules, VAT and duty collection to a non-member who would not be subject to the EU governance structures.”
The EU would not delegate “excises duty collection to a non-member”, he said.
Both he and UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said progress had been made but “obstacles” remained before reaching a deal in October.
Mr Raab said: “We have agreed to meet again in mid-August and then to continue weekly discussions to clear away all the obstacles that line our path, to a strong deal in October – one that works for both sides.”