Blow for Theresa May as Cabinet minister 'brands Downing Street customs union plan a disaster'

Posted On: 
30th April 2018

Theresa May has come under fresh pressure over Brexit after a Cabinet minister reportedly warned that her latest customs plan with the EU would be a “disaster”.

The Brexit war Cabinet will discuss the plan this week
Credit: 
PA Images

The so-called ‘customs partnership’ plan would see the UK collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU as part of its outer border while operating an independent regime.

Brexiters believe the suggestion - pitched as a way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland and avoid imposing new tariffs on business - is unworkable and would allow the EU to dictate the UK’s trade policy long after it leaves the bloc.

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One Cabinet minister told the Sun: “The customs union option currently favoured by No10 would be a disaster.

“It is so fiendishly complicated that most trade experts have derided it.

“It is not too late for the PM to change her mind and get back to the vision of Lancaster House.”

The Prime Minister will discuss the plan at a crunch meeting of her Brexit war Cabinet on Wednesday.

But a Downing Street figure told the paper: “This is part of a concerted effort by eurosceptics to push the Government into a more hard line position. It’s not going to work."

Meanwhile, two of Mrs May’s closest allies have hit back after she was urged to sack her top Brexit adviser Olly Robbins.

Mr Robbins is being seen by pro-Brexit Conservatives as the most vocal champion of the controversial ‘customs partnership’ plan.

Two pro-Brexit business figures broke ranks yesterday to call for Mr Robbins to quit.

Richard Tice and John Longworth of Leave Means Leave said he had “presided over a bungled negotiating position” and called for him to be “replaced by someone from outside the civil service who will take a tough line with Brussels”.

Allies of Brexit Secretary David Davis were also quoted by the Sunday Times as telling the Prime Minister to ignore Mr Robbins in favour of her ministers.

But Julian Smith, Mrs May's chief whip, issued a rebuke to those briefing against the top civil servant.

He tweeted: “The civil service is helping to deliver Brexit. The quality of support/advice is world class. Attacking individual civil servants is deeply unfair.”

That message was then shared by Mrs May's chief of staff Gavin Barwell - who is himself said to have clashed with Mr Davis.

And top mandarin Jeremy Heywood - who rarely makes public interventions - applauded the pair for their intervention.

Former Whitehall chiefs also leapt to the embattled adviser's defence, with ex-head of the civil service Lord Kerslake telling Sky News officials should not be "put to the saw".

David Cameron's former cabinet secretary Lord O'Donnell meanwhile tweeted:

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union for senior public servants, also pushed back at the attacks on Mr Robbins, telling PoliticsHome it was unfair of politicians to "attack individual civil servants who they know cannot answer back".

He added: “It is ministers who decide, civil servants only advise. Attacking civil servants in this way, without even the courage to be named, only undermines the civil service and weakens the government at a time when he country needs both to be strong.”