May ‘will not back’ permanent union plan
Theresa May would never agree a Brexit deal with the EU which “traps” the UK permanently in a customs union, Downing Street has said.
The pledge came amid speculation over possible ministerial resignations if the Prime Minister gives too much ground ahead of a crunch Brussels summit next week.
European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said yesterday “it does appear possible there will be a breakthrough” at the October 17-18 summit, fuelling speculation that a deal is near on a so-called “backstop” for the Irish border.
It is understood that a number of ministers voiced concern at a meeting with the PM in Downing Street on Thursday that any such backstop could leave the UK in an open-ended customs union, preventing it from seeking trade deals elsewhere in the world.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has said it risks making the UK a “permanent EU colony”.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Philip Hammond became the first senior Government figure to suggest the backstop – designed to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic open in the case that no broader EU/UK trade deal is finalised – will “probably” have to come into effect for a period.
But the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up Mrs May’s minority Conservative administration, urged her to resist any initiatives from Brussels which might threaten the union.
As officials continued to wrangle over the precise wording of the agreement in Brussels, a Downing Street spokeswoman told a Westminster media briefing: “The Prime Minister would never agree to a deal which would trap the UK in a backstop permanently.”