Irish Offer Glimpse of Support for May's Brexit Customs Plan

(Bloomberg) -- Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar gave a guarded welcome to Theresa May’s idea to keep a close customs link with the European Union after Brexit, offering the most solid encouragement yet to her efforts to move negotiations forward.

The proposed customs union partnership, in which Britain would collect the EU’s tariffs and then apply discounts to eligible businesses afterwards, is a “welcome suggestion,” Varadkar told lawmakers in Dublin on Tuesday.

“The view of the EU is that it isn’t workable in its current form but it is something that perhaps we could make workable, ” he said.

May’s customs proposal – a complicated plan that would keep the U.K. closer to the European Union than Brexit backers would like – was rejected by most of her Cabinet last week and euroskeptics declared it dead. Still, European negotiators want to explore May’s idea further and have asked the British to answer five questions on it, according to a U.K. official.

Ireland wants clear progress on the Irish border question by June, Varadkar said. However, he said the deadline for agreeing a withdrawal accord “is and always has been October,” suggesting that the government doesn’t plan to derail the process if no final accord is reached next month.

Varadkar warned that even if May’s customs model turned into reality, by itself, it wouldn’t be enough to solve the border crux bedeviling talks. However, it could pave the way for a solution, he said.

“If the UK continued to have a very close relationship with the EU when it comes to customs and the goods and merchandise element of the single market, it would certainly make the job a lot easier,” he said.

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