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Downing Street: UK Will Not Be in Customs Union With EU


The European Commission's Chief Negotiator for the UK exiting the European Union, Michel Barnier (L), and Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, pause ahead of a meeting to 10 Downing Street, London, Feb. 5, 2018.

Prime Minister Theresa May's office underscored Monday that Britain will not remain in a customs union with the European Union after the U.K. breaks with the 28-nation bloc.

After a weekend of conflicting statements from government officials, a source in May's office, speaking only on customary condition of anonymity, told British media that it is not their policy to be in a customs union.

The comment comes as Britain seeks to clarify its position ahead of a new round of talks between Britain and the EU.

May's party has been split between those who want a complete break from the EU and those who want to keep Britain's economy closely aligned with the bloc and its market of 500 million people.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier is due to meet British Brexit Secretary David Davis in London on Monday ahead of a new round of talks this week.

With only months before Britain is to leave in March 2019, tensions in May's government have been escalating as the leadership tries to determine its negotiating position. May has been under pressure to take sides in the Conservative Party's civil war over how close the new relationship with the EU should be.

Business leaders have been pleading with May to have close alignment with the EU. Lawmaker Anna Soubry urged May to pay attention, taking to Twitter to urge her to reject the so-called "Hard Brexit" vision espoused by the European Research Group lawmakers, led by Jacob-Rees Mogg, a prominent Brexiteer.

"It's deeply unattractive that the only reason they want to leave #CustomsUnion is to chase unicorn trade deals," she tweeted.

The government position is important because being part of the customs union affects how members trade with countries outside it. Political leaders who pushed for Britain's exit pledged to strike new trade deals with the United States and others. Such deals wouldn't be possible while remaining in a customs union because the EU executive negotiates trade deals on behalf of members of the bloc.

Critics had hoped the matter would be reconsidered as the negotiations move to the next phase.

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