STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Britain's most painful Brexit choice is all about trade

Britain has a very hard choice to make over Brexit and very little time to make it.Should it remain in the cus...

Posted: Feb 5, 2018 10:49 PM
Updated: Feb 5, 2018 10:49 PM

Britain has a very hard choice to make over Brexit and very little time to make it.

Should it remain in the customs union that allows goods to flow freely across the European Union? Should it leave the customs union? Or opt for somewhere in between?

How best to approach this riddle has been the subject of a major political brawl in recent days. The answer could bring down the U.K. government (say British media), prevent it from striking a Brexit deal with the EU, or both.

Here's what the spat is about:

The customs union enables the 28 EU member states, and other countries such as Turkey that have signed up to its rules, to function as a single trading area.

In practice, it means that cars made in France can be sent to Italy without facing tariffs or a customs check at the border. Goods made outside the union are allowed to circulate freely once they've gained initial entry.

However, membership prevents a country from negotiating its own bilateral trade deals with other nations.

The ability to agree new trade deals -- with the United States or China, for example -- is central to Prime Minister Theresa May's vision for Britain after Brexit. In a speech in September, she ruled out staying in the customs union.

Talk of rebellion

But media reports in recent days have suggested that a customs union deal covering goods could be back on the table, leading to rebellious talk among members of May's party who want a clean break with the EU.

They were incensed by Treasury chief Philip Hammond's remarks late last month that the ideal divorce deal would leave Britain only "very modestly" different than EU members. He worries about the impact on business.

Related: The CNNMoney Brexit jobs tracker

There's little doubt that leaving the customs union will disrupt the flow of goods between Britain and its largest trading partner, and May's government has suggested two arrangements aimed at minimizing the economic fallout.

Confusion over what the U.K. wants to achieve cast a pall over talks Monday between British and EU negotiators.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said that clarity on what the U.K. wants is urgently needed.

"Without a customs union, and outside the single market, barriers to trade in goods and services are unavoidable," he told reporters in London. "The time has come to make a choice."

The first option floated by the British government is a "highly streamlined" customs arrangement that would use new technology -- much of it expensive and untested -- to "deliver as frictionless a customs border as possible."

The second is a "customs partnership" under which Britain would mirror EU import controls on goods from outside Europe, eliminating the need for many customs checks when they enter the EU.

Both are unprecedented.

Critical week

Britain has just 13 months to negotiate its future trade relationship with the EU, but May's Conservative Party and even her own cabinet are deeply divided over how to proceed.

May, who meets her senior ministers this week in an attempt to settle on a way forward, has been conspicuously silent even as businesses cry out for clarity.

A spokesman for the government said Monday that it believes it can achieve "as frictionless as possible" trade with the EU because doing so is in the interest of both parties.

Related: Britain is already worse off because of Brexit

Even if top British politicians can settle on a preferred option, there's no guarantee it will be accepted by the EU.

London has already pledged to avoid the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland, an extremely complicated issue that was not fully resolved in the first phase of negotiations.

Analysts say that avoiding a physical border -- along with related "checks and controls" -- means that Britain must remain very close to the EU.

The terms of the deal announced in December stipulate that if final agreement on the Irish border can't be reached, Britain must continue to abide by the rules of the EU's internal market.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 144544

Reported Deaths: 3729
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto956999
Hinds9541193
Harrison6825105
Jackson6068116
Rankin523796
Lee480294
Madison4602102
Forrest367185
Jones344687
Lauderdale3343142
Lafayette313347
Washington3088106
Lamar281849
Bolivar237883
Oktibbeha237760
Lowndes228362
Neshoba2171113
Panola211047
Marshall207247
Leflore200789
Pontotoc193227
Monroe189577
Sunflower189554
Lincoln183964
Warren172157
Tate163349
Union160125
Pike160058
Copiah158840
Yazoo150638
Scott149929
Coahoma147342
Itawamba145533
Alcorn143724
Simpson143553
Pearl River142967
Prentiss139526
Grenada136344
Adams135948
Leake131643
Holmes124461
George121623
Tippah120930
Covington117234
Winston115824
Wayne115722
Hancock114137
Marion110746
Attala106233
Tishomingo106042
Newton102829
Chickasaw102332
Tallahatchie94727
Clarke88253
Clay86726
Jasper81121
Walthall74328
Stone72314
Montgomery71925
Calhoun71213
Carroll70514
Lawrence69914
Noxubee69017
Smith68616
Yalobusha67926
Perry65225
Tunica59519
Greene58422
Claiborne57416
Jefferson Davis54117
Humphreys52518
Amite50814
Benton48217
Quitman4786
Webster41614
Kemper40815
Wilkinson38422
Jefferson34011
Franklin3185
Sharkey30617
Choctaw3057
Issaquena1114
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 234080

Reported Deaths: 3459
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson30620491
Mobile19306358
Tuscaloosa12501148
Madison12410146
Montgomery12040232
Shelby980576
Baldwin826984
Lee753964
Morgan618247
Calhoun5997113
Etowah590564
Marshall581953
Houston507038
DeKalb463535
Cullman412636
Limestone404544
St. Clair398455
Elmore393961
Lauderdale382953
Walker349096
Talladega335942
Colbert296341
Jackson291924
Blount276336
Autauga263439
Franklin244833
Coffee233415
Dale226654
Dallas220231
Russell21803
Chilton216937
Covington212533
Escambia194431
Tallapoosa169290
Chambers168048
Pike155514
Clarke155419
Marion134535
Winston123723
Lawrence122436
Geneva11748
Marengo116924
Barbour116110
Pickens115318
Bibb114217
Butler113741
Randolph99821
Cherokee98924
Hale91631
Washington90018
Clay89423
Fayette84416
Henry8426
Lowndes78729
Monroe76811
Cleburne74414
Crenshaw70330
Macon70020
Bullock69019
Conecuh66814
Perry6686
Lamar6267
Wilcox62418
Sumter55322
Choctaw41713
Greene40217
Coosa3074
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 59°
Columbus
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 59°
Oxford
Few Clouds
55° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 55°
Starkville
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 55°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather