Brexit will place the UK outside the EU Customs Union and Internal Market both of which, under the EU Treaties, are key features of the EU's structure. The Department for Exiting the EU has published a "future partnership paper" - Future Customs relationship with the EU
A "position paper" deals with Northern Ireland and Ireland and proposes no physical infrastructure at the border - Pledge to protect the Belfast Agreement and Common Travel Area
The Customs paper seeks to achieve:
A highly streamlined customs arrangement between the UK and the
EU, with customs requirements that are as frictionless as possible. This
would aim to continue some existing arrangements we have with the EU,
reduce or remove barriers to trade through new arrangements, and adopt
technology-based solutions to make it easier for businesses to comply
with customs procedures.
- A new customs partnership with the EU by aligning our approach to the customs border in a way that removes the need for a UK-EU customs border. One potential approach would involve the UK mirroring the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world where the final destination is the EU. The paper also sets out new details on an interim period with the EU. The proposed model, which would mean close association with the EU Customs union for a time-limited period.
The paper on Northern Ireland and the Republic Ireland - where, after Brexit, there will be a land border between the UK and the EU - states that the Government will protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) and associated rights for UK and Irish citizens, and put upholding the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement at the heart of its Exit negotiations.
The paper also puts forward proposals on avoiding a hard border on the movement of goods - making clear the UK’s position that there should be no physical infrastructure at the border - and plans to preserve the wide range of institutional cooperation between Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain including for the energy market.
It remains to be seen just how favourably any of this will be viewed by the EU side of the Brexit negotiations. Regarding the Northern Ireland / Republic of Ireland situation, the EU's negotiation guidance states at para 11 - "The Union has consistently supported the goal of peace and reconciliation enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, and continuing to support and protect the achievements, benefits and commitments of the Peace Process will remain of paramount importance. In view of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, flexible and imaginative solutions will be required, including with the aim of avoiding a hard border, while respecting the integrity of the Union legal order. In this context, the Union should also recognise existing bilateral agreements and arrangements between the United Kingdom and Ireland which are compatible with EU law."
The papers have not exactly received a warm reception from various commentators:
The Independent 15th August - Sadly, it's become clear this week that the government is making it up as it goes along with Brexit
Politics.co.uk - 15th August - The government's customs union plan is an absolute dog's breakfast
The Guardian 16th August - Fintan O'Toole - The UK government's border proposals for Ireland are absurd
LSE Thomas Sampson 16th August - UK government's customs position paper fails to answer key questions
BBC News 16th August - Ireland border open after Brexit, Carwyn Jones claims