Theresa May 'will have to extend Brexit transition' amid customs chaos, say MPs

Posted On: 
24th May 2018

Theresa May will “in all likelihood” have to keep Britain in the customs union beyond 2020, a powerful cross-party group of MPs has warned.

Mrs May's Cabinet is engaged in a bitter row over future trade ties with the EU.
Credit: 
PA

A new report by the Exiting the European Union Committee says that the Prime Minister will likely have to stay in the tariff-free trading arrangement with Brussels because of a “highly unsatisfactory” lack of progress on plans for future customs ties.

Such a move would enrage Brexiteers in Mrs May’s own party, who have already heaped scorn on her plan for a close ‘customs partnership’ with the EU after Brexit.

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But Committee chair Hillary Benn said: “We are rapidly running out of time to get new trade and customs arrangements in place.

“Given that ministers are indicating that neither of the two options being discussed are likely to be ready by December 2020, when the transition period ends, the UK will in all likelihood have to remain in a customs union with the EU until alternative arrangements can be put in place.”

The report lambasts ministers for failing to agree or “set out in detail” their plans for future trading arrangements with the EU nearly two years on from the Brexit referendum.

And the Committee - made up of both Remain and Leave-backing MPs - urges more haste from the Government on plans to maintain “frictionless trade” on the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland border, calling on Mrs May to spell out exactly how her alternative to the EU’s rejected customs “backstop” plan will work.

“It is clear that the EU is expecting clarification from ministers by the time of the European Council meeting in June about how the backstop will work,” Mr Benn said.

“The Government needs to come forward with its proposals as soon as possible to demonstrate how an open border, with no checks and no infrastructure, can be maintained.”

However, the group of MPs backs Mrs May’s decision to reject Brussels’ own solution for the Northern Ireland border, warning that the EU’s version of the backstop “would undermine the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom by effectively drawing an economic border in the Irish Sea”.

2019 EXIT 'A FANTASY'

The report also highlights “welcome” progress by both the EU and UK on guaranteeing the rights of citizens living abroad after Britan leaves the bloc, but it warns that some still face “uncertainty” about their status.

Anti-Brexit campaigners were quick to seize on the committee's findings, with Lib Dem MP Tom Brake of the Best for Britain group saying it put paid to claims of a straightforward exit from the EU.

"What this report makes clear is that Brexit by March 2019 was a fantasy, Brexit by December 2020 is unachievable and actual Brexit might not be delivered until 2023,” he said.

"Brexit is proving costlier, more complicated and more disruptive than anyone had thought. That is why people are entitled to a final say on the deal."

SNP Europe spokesperson Peter Grant fumed: "The UK government has it in its power to clear up almost all of this uncertainty with a single statement.

"They must now accept that leaving the EU does not mean leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. They should abandon their blind dogmatic opposition, and confirm that we will stay in the Single Market and Customs Union after we have left the EU – that is the only sensible path to protect jobs and prosperity.”

The report landed on ministers’ desks as a row erupted over fresh delays to the government’s flagship Brexit Bill.

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom confirmed that the legislation - which was amended 15 times in the House of Lords - will not be considered by MPs when they return from the Whitsun mini-recess.