Fresh Cabinet splits as Jeremy Hunt rebukes Boris Johnson over customs outburst

Posted On: 
14th May 2018

Jeremy Hunt today hit out at Boris Johnson over his recent customs union outburst as he urged his Cabinet colleagues to work on Brexit “as a team”.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt today called on his Cabinet colleagues to work on Brexit 'as a team'
Credit: 
PA

The Foreign Secretary last week described Theresa May’s preferred ‘customs partnership’ plan as “crazy” - prompting a swift slapdown from Number 10.

The row over post-Brexit customs arrangements has split the Cabinet in recent weeks, with Brexiteers favouring the so-called ‘maximum facilitation’ option, requiring technology which does not yet exist to keep the Irish border open.

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But the Health Secretary warned his colleagues today that any disagreements must take place behind closed doors, in order to give Britain the best chance in negotiations with the EU.

He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I do think that it is important that we have these debates in private, not just because of collective responsibility, which is what democracy depends on, but also because this is a negotiation and so on the EU side if they see divisions in the open then they will exploit that."

Asked if Mr Johnson should resign over his remarks, Mr Hunt replied: “I actually think he has a very, very important role to play in the Government and he is the architect of the whole Brexit campaign.

“We are listening to what he said and we are doing what he wants, but I just think that we also have to recognise that we are not the only people who read the papers in Britain, they are read all over the world and we need to give Theresa May some space.”

Mr Johnson had told the Daily Mail: “If you have the new customs partnership, you have a crazy system whereby you end up collecting the tariffs on behalf of the EU at the UK frontier.

“If the EU decides to impose punitive tariffs on something the UK wants to bring in cheaply there’s nothing you can do.”

But the Prime Minister's spokesman hit back: "There are two customs models that were first put forward by the Government last August and they were outlined in the Prime Minister's Mansion House speech, which the entire Cabinet was signed up to."

In the wake of the Foreign Secretary’s comments last week, leading Tory Brexit rebel Dominic Grieve called on him to step down.

He told the Guardian: “If you don’t like a policy, you leave the government. That’s what you should do… He should resign. Yes.”  

However, his Leave campaign ally, Michael Gove, defended the remarks yesterday, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “Boris pointed out that because... no model like this exists, there have to be significant questions marks over the deliverability of it on time.”

And in a clear swipe at the Prime Minister’s preferred option, he added: “It’s my view that the new customs partnership has flaws and that they need to be tested.”