Ministers prepare to confront Theresa May as prospect of customs union defeat looms

Posted On: 
23rd April 2018

Cabinet ministers are reportedly preparing to confront Theresa May amid the growing prospect of a Government defeat over the UK’s customs arrangements with the EU after Brexit.

The EU Withdrawal Bill could return to the Commons this week amid a row over the EU customs union
Credit: 
PA

According to The Times, Brexit Secretary David Davis, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox will press the Prime Minister over reports that Number 10 has been preparing for the possibility of Britain remaining in a customs union with the bloc, at a meeting of the Cabinet's Brexit sub committee on Wednesday.  

It emerged over the the weekend that the Prime Minister’s team had been wargaming such a scenario, which was previously ruled out by Mrs May - and had concluded that key Brexiteer Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Mr Davis would not resign if the Government was railroaded into a U-turn on the issue. 

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They did however concede that Mr Johnson and Mr Fox would probably step down in protest.

Following the reports, angry ministers hit back last night, with Housing Secretary Sajid Javid tweeting that the British people had given “clear instructions” through the EU referendum.

Mr Gove later added: “Sajid is right - the referendum vote was clear - we need to take back control of trade - that means leaving the protectionist customs union.”

The row follows Mrs May’s humiliating defeat in the Lords last week, when peers voted for an amendment to a landmark piece of Brexit legislation in favour of remaining in a customs union with the EU.

The issue is set to come up in the Commons this week, with up to ten Tory backbenchers rumoured to be ready to rebel. The number could wipe out Mrs May’s tiny working majority and force her to change course.  

Downing Street has reportedly focussed on the potential fallout after another parliamentary defeat, with a source telling The Times: “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.”

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has piled pressure on Mrs May, urging her in a letter not to delay crucial Brexit votes “for fear of defeat,” and offering to sacrifice Wednesday’s opposition day debate to allow key legislation to pass through the Commons.

A Downing Street source said: “Government policy is to leave the customs union. That’s what we will continue to argue for. That’s where we want to end up.”