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‘Pie in the sky’: Ex-WTO chief attacks bid to break Brexit deadlock

‘It’s pie in the sky’: Former WTO chief attacks Brexiteer bid to break Brexit deadlock with Irish border plan in eye-rolling and gesturing TV clash with former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith

  • Pascal Lamy and Mr Dunan Smith clashed on the BBC’s Politics Live
  • Ex-WTO leader attacked Brexiteer ‘alternative arrangements’ for the Irish border
  • He rolled his eyes as former Tory leader said Brexit ‘could have been a lot easier’ 

Brexiteer plans to break the Brexit deadlock using ‘alternative arrangements’ for the Irish border are ‘pie in the sky’ and will not work, a former head of the World Trade Organisation said today.

Pascal Lamy, who led the transnational business organisation for eight years, clashed with Iain Duncan Smith after the former Tory leader suggested that removing the contentious border backstop would solve the current impasse between London and Brussels.

The two clashed in a flamboyant confrontation on the BBC’s Politics Live in which a demonstrative Mr Lamy name-checked Margaret Thatcher as he said that leaving the single market came with negative consequences.

He rolled his eyes and gestured flamboyantly as Mr Duncan Smith, a member of the hardline European Research Group of Tory backbenchers, said: ‘The truth is you could get this deal through if the EU and the UK were prepared to agree to the alternative arrangements on the Irish border which allowed you to have no fixed border.

‘Now these have been worked through, they have been proposed but the Government has never put them to them (the EU). I spent two hours talking with Mr (Michel) Barnier the other day, they all know this is where it is going to have to be, because the existing backstop does not work in practice.’

Mr Lamy laughed before replying: ‘With respect I was director general of the WTO for eight years of my life, which has something to do with customs procedures.

‘This notion that exiting the internal market implies no border on Ireland is pie in the sky.

‘There is no way that you can exit the internal market without a border.’

Former WTO boss Pascal Lamy made clear his thoughts about Iain Duncan Smith’s views on ‘alternative arrangements’ that Brexiteers want to implement on the Irish border

Despite repeated attempts by Brexiteers to present alternative arrangements for the Irish border involving technology to perform customs checks elsewhere, the EU had refused to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

And Downing St has accepted that it is not going to happen. 

Mr Lamy also rolled his eyes as Mr Duncan Smith, also a former Work and Pensions Secretary, said: ‘I never said it (Brexit) was going to be simple but … it could have been a lot easier.’

Mr Lamy had earlier claimed the current Brexit impasse is a result of Theresa May ‘rushing in’ to discussions on the terms of the UK’s divorce from the EU.

Instead she should have insisted that they should take place in parallel with trade talks which will take ‘years and years’, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He added: ‘My view is that we may have made the wrong choice in deciding that we would negotiate first the Withdrawal Agreement – which is a sort of divorce agreement – and then the rest.’

Mrs May’s Government initially argued that the issues of withdrawal and future relations should be negotiated together, but swiftly folded in 2016 as Brussels insisted the divorce must be settled first.

‘She was in a hurry, she was under huge pressure from Boris Johnson, Brexiters and the rest and she said ‘Brexit is Brexit, we will Brexit’ and they rushed into this first stage without understanding that this huge unclarity on the next stage would have a big bearing on the discussion,’ said Mr Lamy.

‘I know full well from experience that negotiating a trade agreement takes years and years, so I understand why they couldn’t wait for that in order to Brexit for those of the British public who wanted to Brexit rapidly.’

It was now time for the EU to offer ‘clarity’ on future relations to allay the fears of both Brexiters and Remainers that the UK will be ‘cheated’, he said.

Both sides should seek a ‘totally open trade relationship’, retaining as much as possible of current arrangements, he added. 

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