Theresa May and Jacob Rees-Mogg in ‘Downing street clash’ over Northern Irish border
Theresa May reportedly confronted leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg during a Downing Street meeting over post-Brexit customs options yesterday.
According to The Times, the pair clashed as the Prime Minister attempted to unite her warring backbenchers through a series of face-to-face Brexit briefings.
Witnesses told the newspaper, Mrs May had sent “a tough signal” to hardline Brexiteers that any future customs arrangements must not compromise Britain’s relationship with Northern Ireland.
All 315 Tory backbenchers were invited to a “technical briefing” at Number 10, in which Mrs May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell and others explained the pros and cons of the two main customs options.
The issue has split the Cabinet in recent weeks, with Boris Johnson describing the Prime Minister’s preferred ‘customs partnership’ as “crazy,” while Brexiteers have lined up behind the alternative ‘Max Fac’ plan.
During yesterday’s discussions, Mr Rees-Mogg, who leads the powerful European Research Group, was said to have antagonised Mrs May by suggesting that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic could be left open after Brexit.
A source told the newspaper: “Jacob said, ‘If there was a border poll, I have no doubt we would win, as the UK did in Scotland [in the 2014 independence referendum].’
“Mrs May said, ‘I would not be as confident as you. That’s not a risk I’m prepared to take. We cannot be confident on the politics of that situation, on how it plays out.’ ”
Another Tory MP added: “She slapped him down very hard. Everyone thinks he knows what he’s on about but she got him on facts.
“She was absolutely firm and passionate about the Irish position. I got a sense she realises what really matters.”
Hitting back in the Telegraph today, the Tory backbencher warned that if Brussels or Dublin “insist upon rejecting all the practical approaches that we propose” then the UK must be prepared to leave the EU "with no deal”.
Meanwhile, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is reportedly preparing to come out against the ‘customs partnership,’ suggesting that it could cost billions in lost tax revenue.
And in a further blow to Mrs May, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday said that “little” progress had been made in negotiations since March.