Theresa May tells angry Tory MPs: I will not trap UK in permanent customs union with EU after Brexit
Theresa May has sought to reassure worried Tory MPs by insisting that the UK will not be permanently "trapped" in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
The Prime Minister is facing the threat of Cabinet resignations over fears that a "backstop" arrangement aimed at avoiding a hard Irish border will effectively keep the UK locked into the bloc's trading regime forever.
Senior ministers, including Dominic Raab and Michael Gove, expressed their concerns directly to Mrs May at a mini-Cabinet meeting on Thursday evening.
It is also understood that Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey are considering their positions on the frontbench over the row.
In an attempt to calm tensions in the Conservative ranks, a Downing Street spokeswoman insisted any backstop deal would be "temporary".
However, she stopped short of saying that any agreement will continue a specific date for when it will come to an end.
She said: "When we published our plans in June for a UK-wide customs backstop, we were absolutely clear that the arrangement would be temporary and only in place until our future economic relationship was ready. Our position is that this future economic relationship needs to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest.
"The Prime Minister would never agree to a deal that would trap the UK in a backstop permanently."
Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has risked a fresh Cabinet row by suggestion that a backstop arrangement is inevitable, despite Downing Street insisting it remains unlikely.
Speaking to Bloomberg, he said: "We are not going to remain in anything indefinitely, we are very clear this has to be a temporary period. But it is true that there needs to be a period probably following the transition period that we’ve negotiated before we enter into our long-term partnership, just because of the time it will take to implement the systems required.
"It is very important to us that business doesn’t have to make two sets of changes. That there will effectively be continuity from the current set up through the transition period into any temporary period and then a single set of changes when we move into our long-term new economic partnership with the European Union."