Tory Brexiteers warn Theresa May: ditch customs plan or lose your majority
Sixty Conservatives MPs have warned Theresa May her government will collapse unless she shelves Number 10’s preferred plan for a post-Brexit customs system.
The Telegraph reports that the 60 members of the arch-eurosceptic European Research Group - chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg - have handed a 30-page dossier to the Prime Minister setting out their objections to plans for a so-called “customs partnership”.
One ERG source told the paper: “We have swallowed everything so far – but this is it. If they don’t have confidence in Brexit we don’t have confidence in them. The Prime Minister will not have a majority if she does not kill off the NCP [New Customs Partnership].”
The issue was expected to come to a head as Mrs May chaired a meeting of her powerful Brexit ‘war Cabinet’ today.
She is under intense pressure to rule out Number 10's favoured plan for post-Brexit customs, which Tory eurosceptics believe is unworkable in practice and will keep the UK in the orbit of the EU long after it formally leaves.
Veteran Brexit-backing MP and ERG member Peter Bone told PoliticsHome the partnership model was “extraordinarily complex” - and would reduce the UK to becoming the “taxman of Brussels”.
“We would have external duties set by the EU,” he said. “We would then collect that money for them - and if companies don’t happen to be selling their goods on [beyond the EU] they can apply for a refund after the fact. I mean - what a complex and absurd situation.”
The arch-eurosceptic warned: “If the plan is as reported then I think it would have very serious consequences. I think it would one be one concession too many.”
According to The Guardian, however, Mrs May will attempt to stave off rebellion by delaying the final decision on which customs model to go for.
Downing Street sources told the paper that the Prime Minister had no plans to “boot out” one of the options, with Whitehall continuing to flesh out both proposals.
Eurosceptics want to see Mrs May instead opt for the "maximum facilitation" option, which would see Britain accept the need for customs borders and rely on a technology-backed “trusted trader” scheme to try keep customs checks to a minimum.
But critics warn that plan - which has also been dismissed by Brussels - will do little to avoid imposing a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Conservative MPs pushing for a softer Brexit are also adamant that the UK needs to maintain customs ties with the EU to avoid damaging business.
South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen - whose constituency voted heavily in favour of staying in the EU - told PoliticsHome Mrs May should stick to her guns.
“She will absolutely, 110%, put her country first and that will mean she drowns out the bullies and drowns out those that have different agendas and she will consider the prosperity of the people of this country and our economy," Ms Allen said.
“On that basis I think she will pursue the sort of deal that she’s always said she’s looking for which is something that has a very, very close customs partnership.”