Brex­i­teers of­fer olive branch over ports

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front Page - By Ed­ward Mal­nick WHITE­HALL ED­I­TOR

LEAD­ING Brex­i­teers to­day back a pack­age of con­ces­sions to help un­lock a Canada-style trade deal with Brus­sels.

Se­nior mem­bers of the Con­ser­va­tives’ 60-strong Euro­pean Re­search Group (ERG) have told The Sun­day Tele­graph they would sup­port EU of­fi­cials be­ing sta­tioned at UK ports af­ter Brexit to break the im­passe with Brus­sels.

The MPs, in­clud­ing Iain Dun­can Smith, the for­mer Tory leader, and Ja­cob Rees-Mogg, the ERG chair­man, also sug­gest that they would sup­port the Govern­ment en­forc­ing EU rules on goods ex­ported to the bloc by firms in this coun­try.

Brex­i­teers re­gard both pro­pos­als as a sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sion to help avoid a “hard” bor­der with North­ern Ire­land, while paving the way for a much looser re­la­tion­ship with the EU than un­der the “com­mon rule­book” en­vis­aged by Theresa May’s Che­quers plan.

Michel Barnier last month in front of the Com­mons Brexit com­mit­tee dis­cussed the idea of EU of­fi­cials car­ry­ing out checks in UK ports. To­day is the first time se­nior Brex­i­teers have pub­licly sup­ported such a plan.

It comes as min­is­ters are in pri­vate talks over try­ing to “pivot” from the Che­quers plan to a looser Canada-style agree­ment within weeks if the EU for­mally de­clines the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fer. One Cab­i­net min­is­ter said govern­ment fig­ures in favour of the plan had dis­cussed billing the change as a com­pro­mise be­tween the two sets of pro­pos­als, to al­low Mrs May to save face.

Sep­a­rately, The Sun­day Tele­graph has learnt that the Cab­i­net sub-com­mit­tee that signs off on the Govern­ment’s Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tion strat­egy has not met since the res­ig­na­tions of David Davis and Boris John­son in July, prompt­ing claims Mrs May is fail­ing to con­sult min­is­ters about her ap­proach.

A se­nior min­is­ter said that if Che­quers was for­mally killed off by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, a mo­ment that could come as soon as this week, Mrs May must con­sult the Cab­i­net in or­der to se­cure agree­ment about the next steps. If she failed to do so, she would face “trou­ble”, the min­is­ter claimed. In other devel­op­ments: Sabine Weyand, the Com­mis­sion’s deputy chief ne­go­tia­tor, ap­peared to en­dorse a claim that the Che­quers pro­pos­als were “dead” in Brus­sels, with Mrs May and her MPs akin to rail pas­sen­gers ar­gu­ing “over who gets to keep an ex­pired rail ticket”;

The Govern­ment is pre­par­ing a ma­jor es­ca­la­tion of prepa­ra­tions for a nodeal Brexit if talks with EU lead­ers fail at a meet­ing of the Euro­pean Coun­cil in 10 days;

Sir Bernard Jenkin, a se­nior Brex­i­teer, sug­gested that Euroscep­tics could “aban­don sup­port” for Mrs May if she does se­cure EU agree­ment for the Che­quers pro­pos­als and then tries to gain par­lia­men­tary ap­proval by re­ly­ing on the votes of Labour rebels;

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent, sug­gested that the prospects of a “rap­proche­ment” on the

Ir­ish bor­der is­sue had “in­creased” – be­lieved to be a ref­er­ence to con­tro­ver­sial pro­pos­als to keep the UK in a tem­po­rary cus­toms ar­range­ment with the EU in the event of no deal be­ing agreed.

Last month, the ERG launched a re­port de­tail­ing pro­pos­als to avoid a hard bor­der, in­clud­ing by us­ing tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions and trusted trader schemes.

The ad­di­tional pro­pos­als backed by Mr Rees-Mogg and Mr Dun­can Smith to­day could see EU of­fi­cials in­spect­ing lor­ries de­part­ing on boats from ports such as Belfast, Holy­head and Liver­pool, in ar­range­ments likened to the post­ing of French of­fi­cials to check pass­ports at UK Eurostar sta­tions.

Writ­ing in The Sun­day Tele­graph, Mr Dun­can Smith states: “We also need to re­as­sure the EU that their reg­u­la­tory stan­dards can be up­held and en­forced.

“We can do so by con­duct­ing reg­u­la­tory and cus­toms checks to­gether in a way that re­spects the EU’s sin­gle mar­ket, by build­ing on sys­tems al­ready in place at the Chan­nel Ports. The UK has long had ar­range­ments with France un­der the Le Tou­quet Treaty where pass­ports are checked by French of­fi­cers at Dover and UK of­fi­cers in Calais.”

Ex­tend­ing the cur­rent sys­tem in place at Dover “would en­able the Repub­lic of Ire­land and the French au­thor­i­ties to make the cus­toms and reg­u­la­tory checks they need”, he states.

Mr Rees Mogg added: “Agree­ing to Euro­pean of­fi­cials be­ing sta­tioned at UK ports fol­low­ing the Le Tou­quet prece­dent, and for ac­tion to be taken against com­pa­nies that fail to meet EU rules on goods ex­ported to the EU, are both sen­si­ble steps. I would be pre­pared to sup­port them to help to min­imise fric­tion in trade while al­lay­ing Euro­pean con­cerns about com­pro­mis­ing the sin­gle mar­ket.”

Last week, Ms Weyand, the No2 to Mr Barnier, “liked” a post stat­ing the UK de­bate was “de­tached” from the rest of the EU. The post quoted a jour­nal­ist stat­ing: “May dou­bling down on Che­quers against her Tory crit­ics … [is] like watch­ing two peo­ple ar­gue over who gets to keep an ex­pired rail ticket to a town that doesn’t ex­ist. Che­quers is dead here.”

Asked about Mrs May’s fail­ure to con­vene the Cab­i­net’s Brexit strat­egy com­mit­tee in re­cent months, a Down­ing Street source said it was “sim­ply not true that the Cab­i­net has not been con­sulted at ev­ery key stage”.

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