Theresa May facing threat of Cabinet resignations over Brexit customs plan

Posted On: 
12th October 2018

Theresa May faced a backlash from key members of her Cabinet over plans to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU indefinitely after Brexit.

Theresa May is under intense pressure to get a Brexit deal.
PA Images

Liam Fox, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab were among those who spoke out against the move at a heated meeting of senior ministers in Downing Street last night.

Speculation is also mounting that Brexiteer Cabinet members Penny Mordaunt, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey, who were not invited to the meeting, are considering their positions over the row.

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Brussels has said it wants Northern Ireland to stay in the EU customs union as a way of maintaining an open border with the Republic of Ireland, but that has been rejected by the UK over fears it would create a new frontier in the Irish Sea.

Mrs May has proposed keeping the whole of the UK in a customs union, but only for a time-limited period while a trade deal can be thrashed out.

At last night's meeting, the Prime Minister told her colleagues the EU is demanding that any such arrangement be time-limited, sparking a backlash from many of those round the table.

Government chief whip Julian Smith was later forced to appeal for Cabinet unity.

He said: "The Prime Minister and the Government are conducting a complex negotiation that is going well and we should be backing the Prime Minister, supporting her as everybody is."

Ms McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, yesterday refused to say she backed Mrs May's Brexit plan.

She would only say: "I am completely supportive of the Prime Minister, as she well knows. What I won't do is give speculation into what is going forward."

Her comments echoed those of Penny Mordaunt, who also refused to give the Prime Minister's blueprint her support earlier this week.

The latest row comes just days before Mrs May heads to Brussels for a crucial EU summit at which she hopes to agree a Brexit deal.

However, she admitted to Northern Irish journalists that the talks are likely to extend to a specially-convened meeting of EU leaders in November.