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Brexit Britain won't be part of EU customs union, Downing Street says

DOWNING STREET “categorically” stated today that Britain would not enter into any form of customs union agreement after leaving the EU.

It clarified its stance over the matter amid clashes and confusion in the Cabinet.

The government says its decision is based on Britain’s ability to strike independent trade deals with non-EU countries.

PM Theresa May’s official spokesman said the government had set out its position in a paper published in August, which acknowledged that the options of a customs partnership that were being explored would be “challenging” to implement.

The chairman of the Commons exiting the EU committee, Labour MP Hilary Benn, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it was a “profound mistake” to leave the customs union.

GMB union general secretary Tim Roache said that the government appears to have rejected the idea of a customs union to placate squabbling members of the Cabinet and save Ms May’s skin, rather than taking jobs into consideration.

He added: “The future of our ports, manufacturing and our trade with Ireland will be hugely affected outside a customs union, yet these issues are seemingly absent from government thinking.

“If this is indeed the Prime Minister’s decision – where is the plan for jobs and our ports?

“Industry, communities and livelihoods are at stake, we cannot continue with this level of uncertainty.”

The government must put working people first as not having any form of customs union would be “bad for jobs, bad for investment and bad for business,” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said.

She added: “The Prime Minister must break free of the Brexit extremists in her party and put working people first.”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned today that there was “not a minute to lose” in efforts to achieve a Brexit deal.

After a three-course lunch of smoked salmon, pork belly and vanilla custard tart, Mr Barnier told Downing Street the “time has come to make a choice.”

Outside the customs union and single market there would be barriers to trade, he pointed out.

Labour has called for maximum access to the single market without calling for membership, which would place restrictions on its plans to extend public ownership and invest in industry.

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