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Mon, 30 March 2020

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DUP MP says party could get behind 'temporary' customs union to break the Brexit deadlock

DUP MP says party could get behind 'temporary' customs union to break the Brexit deadlock
3 min read

The DUP could get behind a limited customs union with the European Union to help break the ongoing deadlock over Brexit, one of its senior MPs has said.

In a significant move, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said such an arrangement as a "temporary staging post" towards a long-term Brexit deal.

The DUP - whose MPs give Mrs May her slim Commons majority - has repeatedly voted against the Prime Minister's own Brexit deal amid fears its Irish backstop plan will force Northern Ireland to accept different trading arrangements to the rest of the UK.

But Sir Jeffrey told BBC Newsline: "We would have preferred a form of Brexit that enables the UK to negotiate new trade agreements with other countries.

"That's part of the reason for Brexit and maybe a customs union might be a temporary staging post towards that objective.

"We will wait to see what the Prime Minister brings before Parliament but we are very clear, we want a Brexit that delivers for all of the United Kingdom and that keeps the United Kingdom together - that is our objective."


The intervention came as two Cabinet ministers made clear that they believed customs union membership - a key demand of Labour - could break the impasse in the House of Commons.

Such a move would involve Mrs May crossing a longstanding Brexit red line and the prospect has triggered fury from Conservative eurosceptics.

But Chancellor Philip Hammond told ITV's Peston: "Some kind of customs arrangement is clearly going to be a part of the future structure.

"But look, when you enter into some kind of a negotiation like this to find a compromised way forward, both parties have to give something up.

"There is going to be pain on both sides.”

Meanwhile Attorney General Sir Geoffrey Cox told the BBC that while membership of customs union was "not desirable", he would back it if it presented the only way of ensuring a "swift exit" from the EU.

And he said membership of such an arrangement could be temporary.

"If we decided, in some considerable years time that we wanted to review our membership of any such customs union if we signed it - and I'm not saying we will - that's a matter for negotiation and discussion," the Cabinet minister added.

"There's nothing to stop us removing ourselves from that arrangement, so we can't look at these things as permanent straitjackets upon this country."

But moves to soften the Government's position on a tariff-free goods pact have already met angry resistance from Brexiteer MPs.

Tory Steve Baker told ITV's Peston such a plan would effectively make Jeremy Corbyn "deputy prime minister".

"I think it’s very unlikely that we’ll see a majority of Conservative MPs support such a policy, I think it’s very unlikely we’d go through the lobbies flat contrary to our manifesto knowing that we’d also have to have high regulatory alignment to make the border work with the customs union," he warned.

Mr Baker added: "I think if the Prime Minister really wants to do that, she’ll find that Jeremy Corbyn is deputy prime minister and that would be a very strange thing indeed to have that kind of Government of national unity so it doesn’t seem very likely to me.

Fresh talks will take place on Thursday between the Government and Labour as they try to come up with a joint-Brexit plan to present to MPs.

Labour wants a permanent customs union with the EU as well as close links to the single market.

The Tory negotiators will be David Lidington, Steve Barclay, Julian Smith and Gavin Barwell, while for Labour it will be Keir Starmer, Nick Brown and Rebecca Long-Bailey.

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