Brexiteers tell Theresa May to drop customs partnership plan

Saul Bowman
May 3, 2018

Theresa May faces a showdown with Brexiteers in her inner-cabinet today as she tries to convince them of the merits of a new hybrid "customs partnership" between the United Kingdom and the European Union. To them, remaining in a customs union with the EU is tantamount to never having left the bloc in the first place.

A 30-page document passed to the BBC says a "customs partnership" would make meaningful trade deals "impossible" to forge and render the UK's International Trade Department "obsolete".

Under the plan, Britain would collect tariffs on the EU's behalf at ports and airports, passing on a share of the cash to Brussels.

ERG's leader Jacob Rees-Mogg called it "deeply unsatisfactory" and claimed the proposals would "not get us out of the European Union, which is what people voted for".

British Minister for Brexit David Davis stated that he "has no objections" against the idea of the Association agreement between Britain and the European Union similar to the one that the unit has with Ukraine.

In a meeting which ran over to last two and a half hours, May told colleagues that the final arrangement must ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and no customs border down the Irish Sea, and leave trade with the remaining European Union "as frictionless as possible". She said the Lords vote 'sends a clear signal that they must urgently find a solution to the Northern Ireland border.

Unconfirmed reports on Tuesday night said that Chancellor Philip Hammond has thrown his weight behind a customs partnership proposal thought to be favoured by the Prime Minister but branded "cretinous" by critics.

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, one of those attending the meeting, indicated a final decision may not be reached for "a few weeks".

"The Prime Minister will not have a majority if she does not kill off the New Customs Partnership".

When her official spokesman was asked whether this meant that more than two options were now on the table, he said: "Ideas are obviously evolving as we go along".

In Brussels, where negotiations have all but reached a standstill and both the current proposals are considered nonstarters, all sides watched for signs of a fresh offer from the United Kingdom, three senior officials said. He said a customs partnership "would not effectively take us out of the European Union; it would leave us de facto in both the customs union and in the single market".

However, countries in the customs union are not allowed to negotiate their own trade deals on goods around the world. "As the prime minister said, there are a number of ways to proceed".

But he denied issuing the Prime Minister with an ultimatum, telling BBC Radio 4: "We're not in the business of making threats, we're very much supporting the prime minister and getting Brexit through".

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