UK’s May keeps red lines on ‘bringing back control’

LONDON • The European Union (EU) yesterday published the draft legal text that will form the basis for the Brexit divorce treaty. It’s explosive, particularly on the issue of the Irish border, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May plans to reject parts of it.

A customs union isn’t compatible with taking back control of borders and trade, May said in Parliament yesterday, answering a question from Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — who said on Mo day he’d push for the UK to stay in a customs union.

“We want trade kept as easy as possible with the EU,” she said. A customs union “would mean we couldn’t do our own trade deals”.

This is the second week the Labour leader has focused on Brexit in Prime Minister’s Questions, and of course he finally laid out his policy on Monday.

Corbyn said he wants the UK to retain a relationship with the trading bloc, citing the backing of the Confederation of British Industry.

At their weekly question and answer session in the House of Commons yesterday, May and Corbyn both claimed they have the backing of business for their Brexit plans.

“We want to deliver on the vote of the British people that means we will bring back control of our laws, our borders and our money,” May told lawmakers. The Labour position would “be a betrayal of the British people”.

The EU draft text “would, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea”.

“No UK prime minister could ever agree to it,” May said, adding that she plans to make that “crystal clear” to the EU.

“We are committed to protecting and enhancing our precious union,” the prime minister stressed.

Meanwhile, the UK will make two payments per year after 2020 to settle its exit settlement, and any delays will mean interest is accrued, the draft treaty showed.

The level of detail will be off-putting for the British side. Notably, it gives the European Court of Justice (ECJ) a lot more sway than the hardliners in May’s party will feel comfortable with.

“The ECJ must play a role in the interpretation and implementation of the withdrawal agreement whenever it refers to European law,” Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said.

Barnier also had strong words on the transition period, accusing the UK of still pushing back against any new rules. He said it is still not a given that a transition — so vital for businesses — will be agreed.

As expected, the EU’s draft text is direct when it comes to the future of Northern Ireland. A fallback option for the province — if other negotiations fail — is that it must remain in the EU customs union, must keep a consistent tax regime with the Republic of Ireland (ie the EU), while the UK will not hold regulatory authority over goods produced in the North. — Bloomberg