Davis Won't Put Deadline for Decision on Customs: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) -- Brexit Secretary David Davis answers questions in Parliament, with ministers warring over Britain’s future customs relationship with the European Union. Prime Minister Theresa May was outgunned by Brexiters in her inner Cabinet on Wednesday pushing for a more complete split than she wants.

The issue goes to the heart of what Brexit will look like, and is complicated by the fact that the government’s agreed red lines -- on leaving the customs union and avoiding a controlled Irish border -- conflict with each other. With talks ongoing in Brussels, the pressure is building on May to find a compromise or risk crashing out of the EU with no deal.

Braverman: NATO Status to Underpin U.K. Influence (10:41 a.m.)

Asked how Britain would be able to influence Europe-wide sanctions against Russia after Brexit, Braverman emphasizes the importance of NATO in collaborating with other European nations.

“We want to develop a new framework with the EU that ensures that we can continue to work together to combat the common threats we face,” she says. “Our position in NATO obviously remains unchanged and that underpins our worldwide influence in security and defense.”

Davis: Won’t Put Deadline on Deciding Customs Plan (10:34 a.m.)

Davis will not be drawn into giving deadlines on the issue of the customs union: “It’s frankly incredibly important that we get this right, not just for trade but for the extremely sensitive issue of maintaining the peace process in Northern Ireland, and I don’t undertake to put an artificial deadline on something as important as that.”

Davis Defends Lords - Up to a Point (10:29 a.m.)

Davis gave a qualified defense of the House of Lords after one lawmaker accused it of being a “wrecking chamber” rather than a revising chamber following a series of Brexit defeats for the government.

“The House of Lords is a revising chamber and it does a very important job, but some of the proposals, for example to put timetables into the negotiating arrangements, would be a gift to the negotiators on the other side,” Davis says.

Davis: ‘We’re Taking Time’ to Get Customs Right (10:28 a.m.)

Davis seemed emboldened to be openly critical of May’s preferred customs partnership option: “it’s a brand new idea, it’s never been tested anywhere in the world.” That compares to his own preference which he says “uses conventional techniques used around the rest of the world.”

Asked later if the custom partnership plan was off the table, he says “we are taking time to get this right.”

Braverman Equivocates on Citizens’ Rights (10:02 a.m.)

Suella Braverman -- who is fielding many of the questions -- used to chair the ERG, which under its new leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has been making all sorts of noise. Braverman is a hardcore Brexit supporter. She equivocated when asked by a lawmaker about the right of a specific EU citizen to stay in the U.K.: “Her rights will be broadly the same,” she said, as long as she had stayed “the requisite” number of years.

U.K. Wants to Stay Involved in Galileo System (9:55 a.m.)

Asked about the continued involvement in Galileo, an EU satellite navigation system, Suella Braverman -- standing in for Davis -- referred to Business Secretary Greg Clark’s letter on April 19. Basically, the U.K. wants to be involved but on terms it finds acceptable. May is ordering officials to develop options for a rival, British-made sat-nav system, the minister said.

The background to all this is that the EU is looking at how to adjust Galileo once Britain is out. May wants close cooperation to continue and for U.K. companies to keep their access. But she has stressed that she expects U.K. bidders to be treated fairly. At stake is whether the U.K. decides to go solo and launch its own system.

Davis Defends Cabinet Division on Customs (9:48 a.m.)

Davis is asked about the divisions in May’s inner Cabinet about Britain’s customs relationship with the EU after Brexit. Two options are under consideration.

“Both of these approaches have merits and virtues, both have some drawbacks and that’s why we’re taking our time over the discussion on this,” he says.

Davis in Combative Mood (9:46 a.m.)

Davis is needled by the opposition about what lengths he will go to to keep the European Research Group of Euroskeptics happy. This is the informal group of Brexit hardliners, some 62 of them led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who are uncompromising and have the numbers to potentially demand a leadership challenge. Davis does not rise to the bait. “I will not take lectures” from a party that has changed its mind on Brexit, he says.

Davis ‘100%’ Sure U.K. Will Leave Customs Union (9:43 a.m.)

Davis is asked directly with what confidence he can answer the question of whether the U.K. will leave the EU customs union in March 2019. “Will 100% do?” he says.

Davis says “vast majority” of future trade growth will be with countries outside the EU. “Our explicit aim is to make the most of that and that means we have to leave the customs union.”

Davis: Lords Amendments Could Weaken U.K. in Talks (9:41 a.m.)

“Some of the proposals put by the House of Lords could have the effect of undermining negotiations, and that of course is critical to the national interest and we will have to deal with that accordingly,” Davis says.

Davis: U.K. to Protect N. Ireland Peace Process (9:37 a.m.)

Davis says the government is committed to protecting the Northern Ireland peace process “at all costs,” and reiterated that no physical infrastructure will be placed at the border.

Coming up:

  • Second day of the latest round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels
  • Also today, local elections are held in England


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