Brexiteers offer olive branch over ports
LEADING Brexiteers today back a package of concessions to help unlock a Canada-style trade deal with Brussels.
Senior members of the Conservatives’ 60-strong European Research Group (ERG) have told The Sunday Telegraph they would support EU officials being stationed at UK ports after Brexit to break the impasse with Brussels.
The MPs, including Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ERG chairman, also suggest that they would support the Government enforcing EU rules on goods exported to the bloc by firms in this country.
Brexiteers regard both proposals as a significant concession to help avoid a “hard” border with Northern Ireland, while paving the way for a much looser relationship with the EU than under the “common rulebook” envisaged by Theresa May’s Chequers plan.
Michel Barnier last month in front of the Commons Brexit committee discussed the idea of EU officials carrying out checks in UK ports. Today is the first time senior Brexiteers have publicly supported such a plan.
It comes as ministers are in private talks over trying to “pivot” from the Chequers plan to a looser Canada-style agreement within weeks if the EU formally declines the Prime Minister’s offer. One Cabinet minister said government figures in favour of the plan had discussed billing the change as a compromise between the two sets of proposals, to allow Mrs May to save face.
Separately, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that the Cabinet sub-committee that signs off on the Government’s Brexit negotiation strategy has not met since the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson in July, prompting claims Mrs May is failing to consult ministers about her approach.
A senior minister said that if Chequers was formally killed off by the European Commission, a moment that could come as soon as this week, Mrs May must consult the Cabinet in order to secure agreement about the next steps. If she failed to do so, she would face “trouble”, the minister claimed. In other developments: Sabine Weyand, the Commission’s deputy chief negotiator, appeared to endorse a claim that the Chequers proposals were “dead” in Brussels, with Mrs May and her MPs akin to rail passengers arguing “over who gets to keep an expired rail ticket”;
The Government is preparing a major escalation of preparations for a nodeal Brexit if talks with EU leaders fail at a meeting of the European Council in 10 days;
Sir Bernard Jenkin, a senior Brexiteer, suggested that Eurosceptics could “abandon support” for Mrs May if she does secure EU agreement for the Chequers proposals and then tries to gain parliamentary approval by relying on the votes of Labour rebels;
Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission president, suggested that the prospects of a “rapprochement” on the
Irish border issue had “increased” – believed to be a reference to controversial proposals to keep the UK in a temporary customs arrangement with the EU in the event of no deal being agreed.
Last month, the ERG launched a report detailing proposals to avoid a hard border, including by using technical solutions and trusted trader schemes.
The additional proposals backed by Mr Rees-Mogg and Mr Duncan Smith today could see EU officials inspecting lorries departing on boats from ports such as Belfast, Holyhead and Liverpool, in arrangements likened to the posting of French officials to check passports at UK Eurostar stations.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Duncan Smith states: “We also need to reassure the EU that their regulatory standards can be upheld and enforced.
“We can do so by conducting regulatory and customs checks together in a way that respects the EU’s single market, by building on systems already in place at the Channel Ports. The UK has long had arrangements with France under the Le Touquet Treaty where passports are checked by French officers at Dover and UK officers in Calais.”
Extending the current system in place at Dover “would enable the Republic of Ireland and the French authorities to make the customs and regulatory checks they need”, he states.
Mr Rees Mogg added: “Agreeing to European officials being stationed at UK ports following the Le Touquet precedent, and for action to be taken against companies that fail to meet EU rules on goods exported to the EU, are both sensible steps. I would be prepared to support them to help to minimise friction in trade while allaying European concerns about compromising the single market.”
Last week, Ms Weyand, the No2 to Mr Barnier, “liked” a post stating the UK debate was “detached” from the rest of the EU. The post quoted a journalist stating: “May doubling down on Chequers against her Tory critics … [is] like watching two people argue over who gets to keep an expired rail ticket to a town that doesn’t exist. Chequers is dead here.”
Asked about Mrs May’s failure to convene the Cabinet’s Brexit strategy committee in recent months, a Downing Street source said it was “simply not true that the Cabinet has not been consulted at every key stage”.