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Theresa May accused of 'caving in' to Tory Brexiteer demands to avoid Commons showdown

Emilio Casalicchio

3 min read

Theresa May has been accused of "caving in" to Tory Brexiteers after accepting a string of demands from rebel MPs in a bid to avoid an embarrassing Commons showdown.

Government sources have confirmed that four amendments to the Customs Bill, which were lodged by Jacob Rees-Mogg's European Research Group in a bid to water down the Brexit plan agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers less than two weeks ago, have been accepted.

That means the Prime Minister has dodged a series of embarrassing votes which would have highlighted the scale of Conservative opposition to her proposals.

Pro-Brexit Tory MPs were left furious by the Chequers plan - arguing it leaves the UK too closely tied to Brussels with its hopes for a common rulebook for goods and a shared customs regime.

The decision to accept an amendment outlawing plans for Britain to collect tariffs on behalf of the EU unless Brussels agrees to do the same with UK tariffs risks throwing Mrs May's entire strategy into chaos.

Government sources have insisted the remaining three amendments - on the need to legislate for a separate VAT policy from the EU, ruling out a border in the Irish Sea, and agreeing to primary legislation if ministers wants the UK to remain in a customs union with Brussels - were already part of the Chequers plan.

But it was unclear how accepting the Northern Ireland amendment would not fall foul of the EU's demand for a so-called "backstop" arrangement guaranteeing there will be no hard Irish border in any circumstances.

Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, said: "Theresa May has caved in yet again.  The Prime Minister is doing everything she can to pacify Jacob Rees-Mogg and his cabal. But it just will not work, the ERG are now a party within a party who are calling the shots. They will still throw their toys out of the pram, just next time about something else.

"She might as well ask Rees-Mogg to roll over so she can tickle his tummy.  First Trump humiliated the prime minister and this week it's his British fan club. We are in the middle of a Conservative civil war and everyone is paying the price."

Labour MP Gareth Thomas, of the pro-EU People's Vote campaign, said: "Accepting the ERG amendments means sticking two fingers up to the EU’s negotiators and that Dominic Raab has effectively been replaced as Britain’s chief negotiator by Jacob Rees Mogg, because he’s the one pulling all the strings and determining Government strategy.

"The EU27 may remain polite but they can read the signals just as well as the rest of us: the Brextremists are now in charge.

"We have just taken a step closer to the catastrophe of a no deal Brexit being forced on us by a combination of Government paralysis and Parliamentary confusion."

Theresa May has faced a string of resignations over the Chequers plan in the recent Brexit white paper, mainly from bag carriers on the bottom rung of the ministerial ladder.

Cornwall MP Scott Mann became the latest Parliamentary Private Secretary - and ninth Tory overall - to quit today, as he argued the strategy was not up to scratch.

In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, he wrote: “Over the coming days, weeks and months I fear that elements of the Brexit White Paper will inevitably put me in direct conflict with the views expressed by a large section of my constituents.

“I am not prepared to compromise their wishes to deliver a watered down Brexit.”

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