Jeremy Hunt insists UK will not join customs union with EU despite threat of Commons defeat

Posted On: 
23rd February 2018

Jeremy Hunt has insisted that the Government will not back a customs union with the EU despite the prospect of a humiliating Commons defeat.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has insisted that the UK will not enter a customs union with the EU after Brexit

Rebel Tory MP Anna Soubry has tabled a cross-party amendment to the Trade Bill which would force ministers to enter a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn is also set to signal that Labour will also give its backing to a customs union in a major speech next week, further increasing the chances of the Government losing the vote.

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Theresa May has repeatedly ruled out that option, insisting instead that the UK could agree a different kind of trading partnership with the bloc.

Asked on Radio Four's Today programme if the Government would change course, Mr Hunt replied: "No, because if we were part of the customs union we wouldn’t be able to negotiate trade deals independently with other countries and we wouldn’t have full sovereign control of our destiny as a nation."

Speaking on the same programme, Tory Brexiteer and chair of the backbench European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg urged Mrs May to stand by the decision, claiming that a customs union with the EU would lead to higher prices and a lower standard of living.

"People that want a customs want higher prices affecting the poorest in our society most," he said. "It’s extraordinary that Labour wants to penalise a section of society that it wants to appeal to electorally and make their standard of living lower."

However, pro-EU Labour MP Chuka Umunna - who backs the Soubry amendment - said there was not enough support for the position in the Commons and the “parliamentary arithmetic” meant a government defeat was certain.

He said: "The Labour party position - as John McDonnell the shadow chancellor has said - has been evolving, has moved and they will be supporting us staying in a customs union in some way shape or form."

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry last night said Labour wanted the UK and EU to continue carrying out trade negotiations together even after Brexit.

That is bitterly opposed by Leave-backing MPs, who insist Britain must be able to strike its own deals with other countries.

Speaking on LBC, Ms Thornberry said: "I would say that we would take advantage of being in a partnership with the European Union in order to be able to, for example, negotiate with China, and China wouldn't just be negotiating with Britain, it would be Britain and the European Union.

"The European Union would have the advantage of not only negotiating on their behalf, but they would have the additional clout of being able to work in partnership with us."