UK customs deal report ‘speculation’: PM’s office

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office has dismissed as “speculation” a newspaper report that suggests an all-UK customs deal will be written into the legally binding agreement governing Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. The Sunday Times said the plan would resolve the issue of the Irish border, which is the main stumbling block in the Brexit talks, by avoiding the need to treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK. With just five months to go until it exits the EU, Britain’s divorce talks are at an impasse, fuelling huge uncertainty among businesses and causing the value of sterling GBP= to see-saw on any news about a possible breakthrough in the talks.

Reuters reported on Friday that the EU has suggested a backstop post-Brexit customs arrangement that would cover all of the UK. This could give mainland Britain some scope to set trade rules while keeping the province of Northern Ireland aligned with the EU. British Housing Minister James Brokenshire said on Sunday there was still an issue around Northern Ireland in the Brexit talks, referring to a yet-to-be finalised ‘backstop’ arrangement which would prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland if no better solution can be found.

“That very much remains our focus and attention in getting that deal,” he told the BBC. Asked about the report, a spokesman at May’s office said: “This is all speculation. The prime minister has been clear that we are making progress on the future relationship and 95 per cent of the withdrawal agreement is now settled and negotiations are ongoing.” — Reuters