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LONDON, March 29 Finance minister Philip Hammond
said on Wednesday he was confident Britain would negotiate a
customs arrangement with the European Union that would allow for
borders to be as frictionless as possible after Brexit.
Hammond was speaking hours before Prime Minister Theresa May
officially starts the process of Britain leaving the European
Union by triggering Article 50 of the bloc's Lisbon Treaty.
"Everybody in the EU and the UK is going to go into this
negotiation looking to protect their own interests," Hammond
said in an interview on BBC radio, answering a question about
customs arrangements after Brexit.
"It is not in the interests of anybody on the continent of
Europe to have lines of trucks. It is not in the interests of
the millions of EU workers who spend their days producing goods
to be sold in the UK.
"It is not in the interests of French farmers who produce
fresh produce coming into the UK every day that there are lines
of trucks. So I am very confident that we will not get an
outcome that is a worst case outcome for everybody. That would
Hammond said Britain accepted that after Brexit it could no
longer be a member of the European single market or a full
member of the customs union, and that would have consequences.
"We understand that we can't cherry pick. We can't have our
cake and eat it," he said.
However, he said a customs arrangement could be negotiated
that would make borders as frictionless as possible. He said
this was "vitally important" for Northern Ireland, where the
border with the Irish Republic will be the United Kingdom's only
land border with the EU.
"Nobody on either side of this discussion wants to see us
having to return to the hard border of the old days," he said,
referring to past years of violent conflict in Northern Ireland
when border posts were among many flashpoints.
Hammond was repeatedly pressed on what would happen if the
two years of talks between Britain and the EU foreseen by
Article 50 went by and no deal was reached, but he refused to be
"I am absolutely confident that we will negotiate a deal
with the European Union," he said.
He added that the British government had plans in place for
day one after leaving the EU that took into account "a huge
variety" of possible outcomes of the negotiations.
Hammond also signalled tough negotiations ahead on the issue
of payments Britain would have to make to the EU during or even
after Brexit, saying that he simply did not recognise "some of
the very large numbers that have been bandied about in
"I am not surprised that they have been bandied about – this
is after all a negotiation – and it is not surprising to me that
our negotiating partners are setting out a very aggressive
starting line for the discussion."
(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon and David Milliken; editing by