A “major crunch” is looming over Britain’s post-Brexit customs arrangements with Brussels, the UK’s former ambassador to the EU has said.
Sir Ivan Rogers raised serious concerns about the two trading options which have split the Cabinet as he gave evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee.
Senior ministers have been divided between a maximum facilitation, or “max fac”, option which would see new technology used to deal with cross-border trade, or a customs partnership deal whereby the UK would collect tariffs on behalf of Brussels.
Sir Ivan said a customs partnership was a “brave” idea but “complex, to put it mildly”, and that the technology did not yet exist for max fac.
The former diplomat indicated the EU was not in favour of either of the proposals from the UK, saying: “If they’re in that position and saying neither max fac, nor new customs partnership is a runner, then you don’t need to be in my shoes to think we are heading for a major crunch.”
He told MPs: “I don’t think you’ll ever get max fac agreed, personally. I don’t think that’s a runner.”
Sir Ivan quit as UK permanent representative at the EU in January last year, warning of “muddled thinking” over Brexit by UK politicians.
He told the committee Britain would be a vassal state during the proposed transition period between formally withdrawing form the bloc in March 2019 and December 2020.
“We appear to be ending up heading towards, whatever one wants to call it, a vassal state-type transition up to the end of 2020.”
Sir Ivan said membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) was an “implausible” option in the medium to longer term for the UK.
The ex-ambassador said Brexit was achievable, but “this is going to take years to get to the other side.”
He said: “You should view leaving the European Union as a process, not as the event.
“If you take Brexit seriously, which I do, you can’t say you can do all that in a jiffy.”
Sir Ivan added: “All of this is going to be bloody difficult to do.”