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Mon, 6 April 2020

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Tories at war as Brexiteers hit out at Theresa May's customs compromise plan

Tories at war as Brexiteers hit out at Theresa May's customs compromise plan
3 min read

Theresa May is heading for a fresh Cabinet showdown after Brexiteers condemned her plan to break the deadlock over Britain's future customs relationship with the EU.

The Prime Minister is expected to use Friday's Chequers summit to spell out a "third way" approach which would see Britain leave the customs union while staying signed up to the EU's common external tariff.

The UK would also try to enter a single market on goods with the EU in a bid to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But the proposal has already enraged Brexiteers, who fear it will leave the UK collecting taxes on behalf of Brussels - a key reason they rejected to the now-axed 'new customs partnership' model first floated by Number 10.

They also fear that a single market on goods would require an ongoing role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ), as well as some form of freedom of movement.

Senior Eurosceptics have already heaped scorn on the proposal, with a Cabinet source telling The Telegraph: "This doesn't work, it is a fiction designed to keep us in the EU and single market. It's just the customs partnership dressed up with another name."

Another Brexiteer source told PoliticsHome: "If this is true, we are "f****d."

Leading Brexiteer backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg - who this week sparked a furious row by threatening to vote against a deal with the EU - said remaining in some form of single market would be "a cheat on the electorate".

He said: "That doesn't mean leaving in name but staying in fact. It means leaving the single market fully. It's just being honest with voters.  I expect the PM to do what she said she would do. 

"It would lead us subject to the common external tariff, it would mean we could not have any flexibility in negotiating trade deals on regulations. It would leave the UK subject to EU regulations. It may even leave some back-door role for the ECJ.

"The third way was one of Tony Blair's great theories. It was a muddle then, it's a muddle now. The third way is not leaving the EU. What is being proposed is not satisfactory."

A ministerial source meanwhile told the Express the compromise was "not very encouraging" - and warned: "If the Prime Minister has 50 to 60 Tory MPs that she cannot square off, she's in big trouble."

More than 60 Conservative MPs are said to have last night demanded a meeting with government chief whip Julian Smith over the compromise agreement.

One told The Sun: "If this is remotely true, the consensus is it will be open rebellion."

But a government source said: "The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear we are leaving the single market and customs union and will have the ability to strike free trade deals. That is far from the softest possible Brexit that some are suggesting."

Meanwhile, PoliticsHome has learned that Cabinet ministers have been told to expect Friday's showdown at Chequers to last from 9.30am until 10pm.

One senior minister said: "God help us."