Tory rebels hint at climbdown over bid to keep UK in EU customs union

Posted On: 
4th March 2018

Pro-EU Conservative rebels have hinted at a climbdown on their bid to keep the UK in a customs union with the bloc.

Nicky Morgan was one of the Tory rebels who backed the Trade Bill amendment
PA Images

Nicky Morgan said the Prime Minister had signalled she was in “exactly” the same place on their concerns while Sarah Wollaston said a Commons showdown would likely be put off.

The MPs were on a collision course with the PM over an amendment to the Trade Bill, tabled by Anna Soubry, which aimed to keep the UK in ‘a’ customs agreement with the EU.

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A Government loss over the vote would have been a major blow to the authority of the Prime Minister. Indeed, it was revealed this morning that Mrs May refused to rule out quitting in such a scenario.

But top Tory MPs today suggested they had been satisfied by comments about the customs union Mrs May made in a major Brexit speech on Friday.

She said near-frictionless trade could be secured through a customs arrangement that would “ensure that the relevant UK regulatory standards remain at least as high as the EU’s”.

And she reiterated that the Government was against creating a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan gave a strong hint that the rebels had been satisfied in their bid to “get ministers to explain their positions more fully”.

“That is what we began to see in the Prime Minister’s speech on this issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on Friday," she told the BBC's Sunday Politics today.

“The Prime Minister could not have been more clear last week that she does not want to see a hard border between the two and that’s exactly where we are as well.”

She added: “I think there are more discussions to come in Westminster about the two options and I think we will have to see what happens when the bill comes back to the House of Commons.”

Ms Morgan insisted the rebel amendment centred on concerns about the Irish border - despite her colleagues suggesting in recent weeks that it was about preventing economic damage to the UK.


Meanwhile, Health Select Committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston - who had also put her name to the amendment - hinted that the rebels would hold off for the time being.

She told ITV's Peston on Sunday the amendments would “probably be kicked down the road a bit".

There have been rumours that the Prime Minister could have turned the potential Commons face-off into a motion of confidence on her leadership in an attempt to use the threat of a possible change of government as an incentive for rebels to play ball.

Asked on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show if she would be able to continue in the job if she lost such a vote, Mrs May dodged the question.

She said: “We’ll be having a discussion in the House of Commons because what I’ve set out today in terms of a future customs arrangement with the EU I think is what most people actually want to see.

“What I think is of concern for a lot of people is making sure we have that trade across the border which is as frictionless as possible.”