May ‘will not agree Brexit deal that traps UK in cus­toms union’

Western Mail - - NEWS - AN­DREW WOOD­COCK news­desk@waleson­

MIL­LIONS of con­sumers could face “im­me­di­ate” and “catastrophic” con­se­quences in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the watch­dog Which? has said.

The con­sumer group said the Gov­ern­ment’s prepa­ra­tions for a no-deal exit sug­gested a re­duc­tion in con­sumer rights and choice as well as price hikes that would have a “direct

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 that “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 that 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 in the House of Com­mons, urged her to re­sist any ini­tia­tives from Brus­sels which might threaten the Union.

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wil­son said there would be “con­se­quences” for Mrs May if she walked away from her prom­ise to pro­tect the Union.

“We are sim­ply re­mind­ing her, you are be­ing torn at the mo­ment be­tween what we be­lieve are your gut in­stincts and your sound prin­ci­ples on the Union and at the same time the bul­ly­ing, threat­en­ing be­hav­iour of the EU,” said Mr Wil­son at a meet­ing of DUP MPs and As­sem­bly mem­bers in Por­ta­d­own.

Mrs May chaired a meet­ing of the in­ner Cab­i­net on Brexit progress Mrs May set out in June pro­pos­als for a “tem­po­rary cus­toms ar­range­ment” to en­sure that the bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Repub­lic re­mains open in the case that no and hard” im­pact in ar­eas rang­ing from travel to food and en­ergy.

The watch­dog, which based its con­clu­sions on its as­sess­ment of the Gov­ern­ment’s tech­ni­cal no­tices in prepa­ra­tion for the event of a nodeal Brexit, on­line fo­rums and sur­veys, said two in five peo­ple did not un­der­stand the po­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions of a no-deal sce­nario. broader EU/UK trade agree­ment has been fi­nalised.

The doc­u­ment stated that the UK Gov­ern­ment “ex­pects” this ar­range­ment to re­main in place no later than the end of De­cem­ber 2021.

But the EU is mount­ing re­sis­tance to any spe­cific time limit be­ing in­cluded in the text of the UK’s With­drawal Agree­ment, while Leave-back­ing min­is­ters

In its re­port – Brexit no deal: a con­sumer catas­tro­phe? – Which? says: “Our lat­est con­sumer re­search shows that most peo­ple are un­pre­pared for what ‘no deal’ would mean in prac­tice – and many do not un­der­stand how it would have mul­ti­ple im­pacts across so many as­pects of their daily lives.

“When the every­day reper­cus­sions are un­der­stood to be in­sis­tent that the end of the ar­range­ment should be more pre­cisely de­fined than the vague term “tem­po­rary”.

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 and Gov­ern­ment’s plans on is­sues such as food and med­i­cal sup­plies were ex­plained to peo­ple in our re­search, many peo­ple were shocked and ques­tioned why they had not been made aware of the im­pli­ca­tions sooner.”

Which? di­rec­tor of pol­icy Caro­line Nor­mand said: “Con­sumers want a Brexit that pro­tects and en­hances their rights and gives them ac­cess to would trap the UK in a back­stop per­ma­nently.”

The spokes­woman said Mrs May stood by her June pro­pos­als, adding: “Our po­si­tion is that this fu­ture eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship needs to be in place by the end of De­cem­ber 2021 at the lat­est.”

Lead­ing Con­ser­va­tive Brex­i­teer Steve Baker re­sponded that any a wider range of high-qual­ity, affordable goods and ser­vices.

“But it’s clear that many are deeply con­cerned about what a no-deal Brexit would mean for fam­i­lies and busi­nesses across Bri­tain.”

Pop­u­lus sur­veyed 2,056 UK adults on­line be­tween Au­gust 3-5 and 2,100 UK adults on­line be­tween Septem­ber 19-20. back­stop which went beyond a sim­ple free trade agree­ment amounted to “ef­fec­tively com­mit­ting the UK to mem­ber­ship of the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union”.

Mr Baker said: “That won’t wash. The Bri­tish peo­ple voted to take back con­trol over money, laws bor­ders and trade.”

Down­ing Street has al­ways been clear that it does not wish or ex­pect the back­stop op­tion to be im­ple­mented, as it in­sists it will be pos­si­ble to agree a wider trade deal guar­an­tee­ing an open bor­der in Ire­land by the end of the tran­si­tion pe­riod in De­cem­ber 2020.

But Mr Ham­mond told Bloomberg TV: “We are not go­ing to re­main in any­thing in­def­i­nitely, we are very clear this has to be a tem­po­rary pe­riod. But it is true that there needs to be a pe­riod, prob­a­bly fol­low­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod that we have ne­go­ti­ated, be­fore we en­ter into our longterm part­ner­ship, just be­cause of the time it will take to im­ple­ment the sys­tems re­quired.

“It’s very im­por­tant to us that busi­ness doesn’t have to make two sets of changes, that there will be ef­fec­tively con­ti­nu­ity from the cur­rent set-up through the tran­si­tion pe­riod into any tem­po­rary pe­riod and then a sin­gle set of changes when we move into our long-term new eco­nomic part­ner­ship with the Euro­pean Union.”

Fol­low­ing Thurs­day’s meet­ing of the “in­ner Cab­i­net” in Down­ing Street on Thurs­day, Gov­ern­ment Chief Whip Ju­lian Smith in­sisted min­is­ters were united be­hind the PM’s strat­egy.

How­ever, West­min­ster was rife with spec­u­la­tion of pos­si­ble res­ig­na­tions by hard­line Brex­i­teers within the Gov­ern­ment.

Ear­lier, Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary Es­ther McVey, who was not at the Down­ing Street meet­ing, point­edly re­fused to en­dorse the Prime Min­is­ter’s Che­quers blueprint for Brexit.

In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment Sec­re­tary Penny Mor­daunt and the Leader of the Com­mons An­drea Lead­som – who, like Ms McVey, both backed Leave in the ref­er­en­dum in 2016 – were also said to har­bour deep con­cerns.

A num­ber of min­is­ters, in­clud­ing For­eign Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt, Brexit Sec­re­tary Do­minic Raab, En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Michael Gove and In­ter­na­tional Trade Sec­re­tary Liam Fox, were said to have raised con­cerns over the back­stop is­sue dur­ing the 90-minute meet­ing.

> Many min­is­ters fear that Theresa May will agree to a per­ma­nent cus­toms union, if a trade deal can­not be done in time

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