May agrees Brexit ‘back-stop’ but denies climbdown
THERESA May has denied “climbing down” on Brexit but has agreed to a so-called Irish back-stop plan, which some believe will keep Britain in the European customs union beyond the end of the transition period in December 2020.
While the Prime Minister and her senior colleagues are still considering a proposed customs partnership and a streamlined customs border, a backstop plan has been endorsed should neither of them be taken forward by the end of the transition period.
The proposal would mean the whole of the UK would be covered by the EU’S common external tariff, removing any need for a customs border on the island of Ireland or between it and mainland UK.
Brexiteers fear this back-stop plan – agreed this week by Cabinet despite opposition from Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary – amounts to staying in the customs union for longer.
Somerset MP Jacob Rees-mogg said: “We have gone from a clear end-point to an extension to a proposed further extension with no end-point.
“The horizon seems to be unreachable. The bottom of the rainbow seems to be unattainable. People voted to leave; they did not vote for a perpetual purgatory.”
But Damian Green, the former Cabinet Office Minister, who was Mrs May’s effective deputy until his resignation last year, said he was ready to accept a “small delay” to Brexit to ensure that customs arrangements worked effectively.
In a tweet, the Kent MP said: “Surely the point about a new customs arrangement is that it needs to work smoothly from day one or we will have chaos on the roads, especially in Kent. If that means a small delay, so be it.”
No 10 sources insisted the proposed back-stop plan, which will be presented to the EU27 at next month’s European Council, would not be tantamount to Britain staying in the customs union longer,. They claimed that, in such circumstances, the UK would still be able to sign and implement trade deals. Moreover, any such measure would only last for a matter of months.
Arriving at the EU Western Balkans summit in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, the PM, asked about the back-stop plan, said: “No, we are not [climbing down]. The United Kingdom will be leaving the customs union; we are leaving the European Union.”
Theresa May said yesterday the UK will leave the customs union.