May warned on Irish 'contradiction' at heart of future EU deal

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Media captionPierre Moscovici warns an open border with the Republic of Ireland is incompatible with being outside the EU customs union

A leading European Commission official says there is a danger of a "contradiction" at the heart of Britain's separation deal with the EU.

Pierre Moscovici said it was difficult to see how an open border could be kept on the island of Ireland if Britain did not stay in a customs union.

If Britain did agree to a customs union arrangement then the UK could be barred from signing free trade agreements with other countries, he told the BBC.

The UK would have to follow EU rules.

Which a number of Cabinet members have made clear is not what they want to see once Britain has executed Brexit.

Last summer, Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, told me that Brexit supporters did not vote to "part leave" the EU.

It has been suggested that there could be a technological solution to the issue - which would mean goods being digitally tracked between Ireland and Northern Ireland - although many trade experts believe that would be difficult to deliver.

"How can you have no border - no hard border - and not have at the same time internal markets and custom unions?" Mr Moscovici asked.

"Because goods can come through that non-border - there would be a non-border between a part of the UK and Ireland, which is a part of the EU, so you see, that would be very complex.

"It's hard to imagine that there is no hard border, and at the same time, no internal market and no customs union, there would be a contradiction there."

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Image caption The Prime Minister said the Irish border will be dealt with as part of the trade negotiations next year

Mr Muscovici said he wanted to see a "close and intimate relationship" between Britain and the EU following Brexit and a solution to the Irish border issue should be one that strengthens both the UK and the EU.

Theresa May and the Irish government have made it clear that they do not want to see a border on the island of Ireland.

The Prime Minister said the subject will be dealt with as part of the trade negotiations next year.

She said a deal on the issue "will be delivered".

No 'cherry picking'

Mr Moscovici, commissioner for Economic Affairs, Taxation and Customs, said that the UK would not be able to partially follow EU rules when it seeks to cement a new trade deal.

"There cannot be cherry picking - at one moment the UK will have to choose its own model of relationship with the EU," Mr Moscovici said.

"Some speak about Norway, which is part of the internal market, others about Canada - well, there is a long way between Norway and Canada but still no cherry picking will be possible.

"You cannot deal with half of the rules - you need to act by the rules."

Many believe that the Commission is "talking tough" on cherry picking as part of its negotiating stance and that it has revealed, in its complicated relationship with non-EU member Switzerland for example, that rules can be amended to maintain good trading relationships.