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Everyone thinks Theresa May’s new Brexit plan is a mess

by David Gilbert
Aug 15 2017, 7:45am

The latest Brexit plan from the U.K. government has been labeled “deluded” by one European commissioner and hammered by others, as Theresa May’s government faces mounting accusations that it is woefully unprepared to handle the critical exit talks.

Two months into negotiations and 14 months after the Brexit vote, the U.K. government has finally published its first detailed policy document, outlining a proposal to temporarily stay within the EU customs union while it negotiates international trade deals.

The plan is already being ridiculed by all sides. Brussels has brushed it off as wishful thinking, and “leave” voters have accused the majority Conservative government of selling out its base by seeking a softer Brexit.

According to the plan, the U.K. would negotiate a “temporary customs union” where the current rules regulating the EU’s tariff-free trading area would remain in place for up to two years. Brexit Minister David Davis admitted in the proposal that the U.K. may have to pay the EU for the privilege.

The plan promises to deliver an “ambitious new customs arrangement” and the “freest and most frictionless possible trade” with the rest of the EU. Yet the U.K. proposal has little audience in Brussels because it demands the right to negotiate its own international trade deals — something it cannot do as an EU customs union member, and something the EU has been reluctant to move on.

Responding to the proposals, Ireland’s European commissioner, Phil Hogan, accused the U.K. of “high-level delusion.” Karel De Gucht, a former European commissioner for trade, called the plans “very problematic.” The European Commission also cast doubt on the proposals, claiming that a “frictionless” border was simply not possible if the U.K. leaves the customs union.

The latest policy document contradicts previous comments from U.K. Chancellor Philip Hammond and Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who days earlier had confirmed the U.K.’s departure from the EU’s customs union.

The apparent flip-flop was the latest example of the overall confusion — inside and outside the government — that has surrounded Brexit talks from the start.

The U.K. government’s proposal is seen as a climb down from the harder Brexit plan regularly espoused by Prime Minister May. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” she said back in January.

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