LONDON — The European Union's Brexit negotiator warned Monday that the time has come for the U.K. to clarify what relationship it wants with the bloc once it leaves, and warned that exiting its customs union would hurt trade.
Michel Barnier shook his head as he outlined the results of a meeting with the U.K. Brexit chief David Davis. With Britain set for departure on March 29, 2019, Barnier said it was time for Britain to decide whether it wants.
"The only thing I can say, without a customs union and outside the single market, barriers to trade on goods and services are unavoidable." Barnier said. "The time has come to make a choice."
Davis, by contrast, said tried to assert the British position was clear: The U.K. wanted a comprehensive free trade agreement while still having the opportunity to make deals across the rest of the world.
"It's perfectly clear what we want to do. There's no doubt about it, we are leaving the customs union but we are aiming for a good future for Britain."
The comments come after weeks of political infighting within Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party.
With only months before Britain is to leave, May's party has been split between those who want a complete break from the EU and those who want to keep Britain's economy closely aligned with the bloc and its market of 500 million people.
Business leaders have been pleading with May to have close alignment with the EU. Lawmaker Anna Soubry urged May to pay attention, taking to Twitter to urge her to reject the so-called "Hard Brexit" vision espoused by the European Research Group lawmakers, led by Jacob-Rees Mogg, a prominent Brexiteer.
"It's deeply unattractive that the only reason they want to leave #CustomsUnion is to chase unicorn trade deals," she tweeted.
The government position was important because being part of the customs union affects how members trade with countries outside it.
Political leaders who pushed for Britain's exit pledged to strike new trade deals with the United States and others. Such deals wouldn't be possible while remaining in a customs union because the EU executive negotiates trade deals on behalf of members of the bloc.