Pressure grows on Theresa May as Tory rebels line up to back customs union bid
Pressure was growing on Theresa May tonight as Conservative MPs lined up to back a bid to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
A cross-party amendment to the Trade Bill tabled by rebel MP Anna Soubry calls on the Government to negotiate “a” customs union with the bloc.
Defeat for the Government on the proposed clause if it gets Labour support would be a major blow to the Prime Minister who has vowed to take the UK out of the customs union after Brexit.
It marks the latest battle between pro-EU and anti-EU Tory MPs who are fighting over how closely aligned the UK will remain to the EU in terms of its business regulations.
Prominent names such as Heidi Allen, Bob Neil and Nicky Morgan have all said they would be backing the amendment when the bill returns to the Commons in May.
MPs Dominic Grieve and Stephen Hammond - who have also backed the amendment - even hinted that they could vote against the Government and risk triggering a no-deal Brexit.
Ms Soubry told PoliticsHome: “Nobody wants to vote against their own government, but we have been put into a position before whereby we have had to do that to make sure things are done properly and in the best interests of Britain.”
And fellow Tory Ms Allen said on Twitter: “My bosses are my constituents, and they voted remain.”
Mr Grieve told the BBC he believed a “broad swathe of the Conservative party in parliament” backed the proposal.
But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt today insisted the UK will not back a customs union with the EU despite the prospect of the humiliating Commons defeat.
Asked on Radio Four's Today programme if the Government would change course, Mr Hunt replied: "No, because if we were part of the customs union we wouldn’t be able to negotiate trade deals independently with other countries and we wouldn’t have full sovereign control of our destiny as a nation."
Downing Street said today: "The Prime Minister has set out her plans clearly. We're working towards getting a deal which we believe will work for all parts of the UK and deliver as frictionless a border as possible and tariff-free trade.
“It's in the best interests of the country and would be a good deal for the United Kingdom, and we believe that that is a deal which everyone should be able to support."
The amendment reads: “It shall be the objective of an appropriate authority to take all necessary steps to implement an international trade agreement which enables the UK to participate after exit day in a customs union with the EU.”
The move comes as Jeremy Corbyn prepares to officially commit Labour to joining a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
Given Mrs May only has a working majority of 13, that greatly improves the chances of Ms Soubry's amendment being passed.
Senior Labour figures like Emily Thornberry, John McDonnell and Owen Smith have hinted that the party could be on the verge of a major change in its Brexit stance.
But a senior Labour source suggested to PoliticsHome the party would not back the amendment by Ms Soubry in its current form due to technical issues with its wording.
The source said: "Their amendment could always be amended by them to make it more technically proficient, and if it was more technically proficient it would be a good thing, would it not?"