Brexit: Leo Varadkar hints at UK say in future trade deals
The Taoiseach (Irish prime minister), Leo Varadkar, has suggested that the UK would be able to have a say in trade deals if it forms a customs union with the EU.
A customs union is a major focus of Brexit talks between Labour and the Conservatives.
It is Labour policy to form a permanent customs union with the EU.
Many Conservatives oppose that idea saying the UK would be subject to EU trade deals but with no say.
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However, the Taoiseach suggested the EU would be able to develop a 'sui generis' (unique) arrangement for the UK, and said the proposal for the UK to stay in a customs union with the EU after Brexit has "real merit".
"I believe as the EU having the UK in a customs union means we could get the best deals for all of us," he said.
"If the UK were to decide to stay in a customs union, we would be able to develop something 'sui generis' so that they would have a say around things in terms of future trade deals, and a level playing field around labour rights and environmental rights."
Mr Varadkar was speaking in Brussels ahead of a crucial EU summit.
Leaders are due to discuss the UK's request for another extension, to avoid a no-deal Brexit on Friday.
Mr Varadkar also said he did not want the EU to grant an extension "that goes on forever and causes the impasse to continue".
What is a customs union?
Countries in a customs union agree not to impose charges - known as tariffs - or custom checks on each other's goods.
The rules also mean that any goods coming in from the rest of the world pay the same tariff - irrespective of where in the customs union those goods first enter.
This is known as a common external tariff.
The EU customs union includes the 28 EU member states as well as Monaco.
The EU also has customs union arrangements with non-EU members: Turkey, Andorra and San Marino.
But under (the EU's) customs union rules, members cannot negotiate their own independent trade deals with countries from the rest of the world.
Instead, free trade deals (ie agreements that reduce or eliminate tariffs between countries) can only be negotiated by the EU as a whole.
What is Labour's plan?
It would see the UK join a new permanent customs union with the EU after Brexit, and have the power to have a say in future EU trade talks.
The idea that the UK would be allowed such a say has been dismissed by Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary.
He has declared Labour's position "an unprecedented legal and political novelty of the kind that is rightly called a unicorn".