David Davis has said he wants a temporary customs arrangement with the EU to last for two years after Brexit as he insisted the negotiation with Brussels were going “incredibly well”.
This morning the government published its plan to secure a deal that would reduce any problems of goods moving across the border when the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.
Asked by BBC Radio 4′s Today programme how long the termporary arrangement would last, Davis said: “It’s very hard to say exactly how long, the most likely is something like two years maybe a bit shorter.”
A customs union is an arrangement whereby once goods enter the zone, they can be moved around without further tariffs being imposed.
The Brexit secretary said the UK wanted to be able to strike new trade deals with non-EU countries during this period.
“We should be able to have an arrangement where we can do the negotiations, sign it off, but not enter into effect,” he said.
Until the UK formally leaves the EU, it is not allowed to negotiate trade deals on its own.
Davis said this legal barrier would be lifted even if a temporary customs arrangement was put in place.
However Karel De Gucht, who was European Commissioner for Trade 2010-2014, told Today the EU was unlikely to let the UK start striking new trade deals while remaining in a customs union with the bloc.
“Technically you could do it,” he said. “But politically it is very difficult.”
Davis refused to rule out the UK paying money to Brussels after Brexit in exchange for securing a temporary customs arrangement. “I am not going to do the negotiation on air,” he said.
And he rejected the suggestion the European Court of Justice would be the arbiter of any temporary customs union. “No, we don’t think so,” he said.
Davis also played down reports of cabinet splits over the Brexit strategy between Philip Hammond, Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and himself.
He said any confusion about the UK’s position was deliberate “constructive ambiguity” designed to keep the EU on its toes. “Sometimes you will find it difficult to read what we intend,” he said.