Bri­tain will not be stuck in cus­toms union, says May

i Newspaper - - NEWS - By Nigel Mor­ris PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

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

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