Britain will not be stuck in customs union, says May
Theresa May has attempted to head off Cabinet resignations from proBrexit ministers by insisting she would not allow Britain to become “trapped” in a customs arrangement with the European Union.
Andrea Leadsom (inset) is prepared to resign as Commons Leader if the Prime Minister backs any proposal that could keep Britain permanently aligned to the EU’s customs territory after Brexit. Ministers at all levels of the Government – including as many as six Cabinet members – are thought to be ready to step down if the Prime Minister gives too much ground on the issue.
Ahead of a Brussels summit next week, UK and EU officials are working through the weekend to try to resolve their differences amid optimism that the distance between the sides is narrowing.
One possibility being discussed is extending the post-Brexit transition period by a year to give companies more time to prepare for the UK’s departure. It is currently due to expire in December 2020. However, tensions are running high within government ranks over the precise wording of a “backstop” deal on customs to prevent the imposition of a “hard border” on the island of Ireland.
Amid growing fears among Brexiteers that Mrs May is heading towards an open-ended deal with Brussels, a Downing Street spokeswoman insisted: “The Prime Minister would never agree to a deal which would trap the UK in a backstop permanently.”
Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary, also made clear his opposition to concessions on the backstop. “It would have to be finite, it would have to be short and it would have to be, I think, time-limited in order for it to be supported here,” he said. “What we cannot do is see the UK locked in, via the backdoor, to a customs union arrangement which would leave us in an indefinite limbo. That would not be leaving the EU.”
The DUP, on whose support Mrs May depends for a working parliamentary majority, is hostile to the customs plan, arguing it could lead to checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Its deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, said: “I think there could be developments over the weekend in terms of the Government’s own position and the Cabinet, so we will remain focused on the priorities for Northern Ireland.”
Last night, the former chancellor George Osborne accused Mrs May of “putting off the hard decisions” and claimed that “almost no one credible” believes Britain will be better off after Brexit. Tory Brexiteer Steve Baker said that any backstop which went beyond a simple free trade agreement amounted to