Sat, 18 May 2024

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Theresa May 'could concede on customs union' despite anger from Brexiteers

2 min read

A top aide to Theresa May has reportedly said Number 10 “will not be crying into our beer” if the Prime Minister is forced to accept membership of a customs union - a move that would enrage Brexiteers in her own party.

Mrs May has repeatedly said that the UK will quit the European Union's tariff-free area in order to strike free trade deals, instead opting for a more limited customs "partnership" with the bloc.

But the Prime Minister faced an embarrassing set of defeats in the House of Lords this week over the issue, and a cross-party group of MPs are joining forces next week to again pile pressure on Ms May to change tack.

According to The Sunday Times, the Prime Minister's team last month admitted in private that she may have to concede on customs union membership because of Parliamentary pressure, with one aide signalling that Downing Street would in fact be relaxed about such an outcome.

A source told the paper: "They sat in a room in 9 Downing Street when they were discussing Brexit and [Downing Street Brexit adviser] Olly Robbins came in. The discussion focused on what to do if parliament votes to stay in a customs union. Someone from the political unit at No 10 said: ‘We wouldn’t cry into our beer if we were forced to do this.’ The PM needs to go through the choreography of trying to leave but we might be forced to do it."

Number 10 is said to have accepted that Boris Johnson and Liam Fox could walk out of the Cabinet over the cave-in - but the paper says aides do not believe fellow Brexiteers Michael Gove and David Davis would be willing to quit.

"The civil service fast stream have a pool on who is going to resign first," a source told The Sunday Times. "All the money is on Liam Fox and then Boris.”

However, Mr Davis is leading a separate Cabinet charge against the post-Brexit customs plans currently being floated by Downing Street, according to the Mail on Sunday.

The so-called 'hybrid' solution would see the UK collect import tariffs on behalf of the EU, but the Brexit secretary is said to have told Downing Street that the plan would not work in practice - and could spark revolt on the Conservative benches.

Former Brexit minister David Jones has already hit out at the "byzantine" proposal, telling the Mail on Sunday: "I speak for many Tory MPs when I say that whatever the consequences, we could never vote for it."

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