Theresa May to Brexiteers: back me on compromise plan or risk full customs union
Theresa May has warned warring ministers to fall in line behind her favoured plan for close customs ties with the EU or risk being pushed into a full customs union by MPs, it has emerged.
The Prime Minister's so-called Brexit war cabinet is at odds over Downing Street’s favoured ‘customs partnership’ plan, which eurosceptics fear will hobble future trade deals with countries outside of the EU and reduce the UK to acting as the “taxman of Europe”.
Despite opposition from figures including Home Secretary Sajid Javid, however, Mrs May is expected to table a tweaked version of the proposal at a fresh meeting this week.
Amid intense efforts by Downing Street to convince ministers to back the proposal, the Financial Times reports that the Prime Minister has told them to accept the deal or see MPs impose a full customs union on the Government.
An ally of Mrs May told the FT: “If we don’t make this decision, parliament could do it for us."
The prospect of Commons trouble over the customs union has been raised since ministers suffered a major defeat in the House of Lords on the subject last month.
Several rebel Tory MPs have meanwhile put their names to amendments on the Trade Bill backing close customs ties with the EU.
With tensions running high over the row, Mrs May’s office has been accused of trying to gag Brexit-backing ministers.
The Telegraph cites senior pro-Brexit figures who reacted furiously to what they saw as an attempt by Business Secretary Greg Clark – known to be in favour of Number 10’s plan – to reignite ‘Project Fear’ during a weekend interview where he raised the threat of thousands of job losses.
A Cabinet source accused Downing Street of “silencing Brexiteers while unsubtly putting forward the Business Secretary to make the case for staying in the customs partnership”.
Former Brexit minister David Jones told the paper that there was “no doubt” Mr Clark’s appearance had been “licenced” by Number 10.
He fumed: “They ought to understand that the customs partnership is dead and finished and they should give up...
"If a eurosceptic minister had spoken out, in the same way, they would have been hauled in front of Number 10. It's disgraceful."
But a Downing Street spokesperson denied that Mr Clark’s appearance had been part of a concerted effort to bang the drum for the partnership plan.
They said: "The idea that Downing Street deliberately put Greg Clark up to fly the flag for a customs partnership is absolute nonsense."
Elsewhere Environment Secretary Michael Gove last night endorsed a Twitter thread written by one of his former aides calling for the favoured partnership plan to be shelved.
Eurosceptics instead want to see the UK go for a ‘maximum facilitation’ option, which would use technology and so-called ‘trusted trader’ schemes to try and keep trade friction to a minimum.
Brexit Secretary David Davis admitted last week that Brussels had reacted coolly to both of the proposals being thrashed out by the Cabinet.