February 18, 2019
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European Union

UK's May dismisses Corbyn's offer to maintain custom's union post-Brexit

 British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives to speak to the press after a meeting with the President of the European Council Donald Tusk at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 7, 2019. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives to speak to the press after a meeting with the President of the European Council Donald Tusk at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 7, 2019. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

London, Feb 11 (efe-epa).- The United Kingdom's prime minister has on Monday ruled out making a key concession requested by the country's opposition leader to keep the country in a customs union with the European Union as a way to soften Brexit.

On Sunday, Conservative Party leader Theresa May responded to Labour Party chief Jeremy Corbyn's five-point list of proposed concessions the prime minister could make to secure his party's backing when her withdrawal deal is once against put to a vote in the House of Commons, the UK's lower chamber of lawmaking, where MPs have a final say in a so-called meaningful vote.

"We are absolutely clear on this: we're not considering Jeremy Corbyn's customs proposals; we're not considering any proposals to remain in the customs union. We must have our own, independent trade policy," a spokesperson for the prime minister said, adding that the Tory leader would update parliament on the state of Brexit on Tuesday.

The PM has taken the withdrawal deal back to Brussels in search of further negotiations after the Commons overwhelmingly rejected in a vote and later passed an amendment requiring her to seek alternative arrangements to the Irish backstop, a safety net clause to protect the open border in Ireland should talks on the future relationship with the EU collapse.

Hardline Tories and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May's minority executive in the Commons, both took issue with the backstop, saying it could either lock the UK into EU regulations indefinitely or subject Northern Ireland to a separate customs arrangement to that of the rest of the UK.

The Tory leader remained adamant that she could secure changes to the backstop in the withdrawal deal, the legally-binding result of over two years of negotiations with Brussels despite the EU's repeated warnings the deal would not be reopened.

They offered instead to edit the wording in the political declaration, a non-legally-binding text adjoining the withdrawal deal, which acts as a statement of goodwill.

Corbyn, whose shadow cabinet is left-leaning, had written to May urging her to outline a UK-wide customs union to avoid job disruption and to avoid problems with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the open status of which is enshrined in a 1998 international peace deal that helped end decades of conflict and terror in the region.

For many in Northern Ireland's complex social make-up, where some sections of the population identify as British coming from mainly Protestant areas and some as Irish coming from mainly Catholic areas, the open border not only benefits trade but is a symbol of peace between communities.

A hard border has not been seen in Ireland since the time of the Troubles conflict, in which over 3,500 people died.

The UK is due to leave the EU on Mar. 29, almost three years after the UK electorate narrowly voted in favor of leaving the bloc.

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