Michel Barnier kills off Theresa May’s Brexit customs proposals

Michel Barnier, right, during a joint press conference with the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab.

Michel Barnier has warned that attempts to appeal to EU leaders over his head were a waste of time as he rejected Theresa May’s proposals on customs after Brexit, in effect killing off the Chequers plan.

On Friday Theresa May travels to Austria to meet Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and the Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, before heading off on her summer holiday.

May’s trip follows the EU chief Brexit negotiator insisting there was no difference of opinion in European capitals to exploit.

“Anyone who wants to find a sliver of difference between my mandate and what the heads of government say they want are wasting their time, quite frankly,” he told reporters at a joint press conference with the new Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, in Brussels.

The British negotiators have become increasingly frustrated with the EU’s attitude to the white paper thrashed out at the prime minister’s country retreat. They feel that it will take an intervention by leaders, most likely at a summit in Salzburg in September, to move the dial in favour of a deal. A number of cabinet ministers have been despatched around EU capitals to make their case for greater flexibility.

The impasse in the negotiations was laid bare in the press conference in the European commission’s Berlaymont headquarters as a thunderstorm broke outside.

While Raab insisted that with “political will” a deal on trade and on avoiding a border on the island of Ireland was achievable by a crunch summit in October, Barnier offered a damning verdict on a major element of the UK’s vision of the future.

To avoid customs checks after Brexit, the government wants an unprecedented system where the UK would collect EU duties while having the freedom to set different tariffs on goods destined for the British market.

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