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Chancellor Philip Hammond has said Brussels has set out a “a very aggressive starting line” on the UK’s bill to quit the EU but expressed confidence the government would be able to negotiate a “deep and special relationship” as today it triggers the process for quitting the bloc.
Speaking to BBC Today programme before attending this morning’s cabinet meeting to be briefed on the Article 50 letter sent to Brussels this morning, he said the government had already made it clear that “because of the requirements that the British people have specified in the referendum result we will not be members of the European single market, we will not be full members of the European customs union”.
But he said the government is “confident we will be able to negotiate a customs arrangement with the European Union that makes the borders between our countries, as frictionless as possible.”
He said he expected both sides “to go into these negotiations looking to protect their own interests”.
“I am very confident that we will not get an outcome that is a worst case outcome for everybody. That would be ridiculous.”
Asked about the warnings from Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, that failure to agree a deal with the EU would see transport gridlock on roads from UK ports, Mr Hammond said:
It is not in the interests of anybody on the continent to have lines of trucks, not in the interests of millins of EU workers who spend their days producing goods to be sold in the UK its not in the interests of French farmers who produce fresh produce coming into the UK everyday that there are lines of trucks.
On the question of the bill to be paid by the UK to leave the bloc, he said officials in Brussels have set out a “a very aggressive starting line”.
But he added:
I should be very clear that we simply do not recognise some of the very large numbers that have been bandied about in Brussels. I’m not surprised they’ve been bandied about. This is after all a negotiation and it’s not at all surprising to me that our negotiating partners are setting out a very aggressive starting line for the discussion.
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