Ministers split over future customs arrangement post-Brexit

Glen Norman
May 3, 2018

During the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, new boy and Remain voter Javid is said to have sided with hard Brexiters Liam Fox, David Davis, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

A customs partnership: This would remove the need for new customs checks at the border.

What was clear was that the prime minister had reiterated that she wants Britain to leave the EU's customs union. And if Britain leaves European customs arrangements, Northern Ireland must either join the United Kingdom on the outside or break from the rest of the country.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers pressed British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday not to keep the United Kingdom tied to the European Union's customs union, amid warnings from the bloc that Britain must hurry up and decide what kind of future relationship it wants.

The ERG's leader Jacob Rees-Mogg insisted he was not issuing an "ultimatum" to the Prime Minister but stressed his opposition to the option.

One alternative, known as the customs partnership, has already been rejected by Leavers including David Davis and Liam Fox, who claim it would leave the United Kingdom too closely tied to the European Union after Brexit.

He also flagged, however, that Ireland's participation in the single market meant that "goods entering Northern Ireland must comply with the rules of the Single Market and the Union Customs Code".

Before May met her so-called Brexit war cabinet, a group of lawmakers criticised her proposal for a customs partnership, saying the arrangement that would see Britain essentially act as the EU's tariff collector was unworkable.

After losing her party's majority at an ill-judged election a year ago, May has put off committing to a single plan, offering Brussels two options - the customs partnership or a technology-based streamlined customs arrangement, both of which European Union negotiators have dismissed. "We're very much supporting the prime minister".

Challenged by Labour MP Karen Buck on why she was continuing to consider two options, both of which were known not to be "feasible", the PM responded that there were "a number of ways" of delivering on the government's commitments.

May has now asked for more work to be done on both options.

The government is set to be dealt a further blow by the House of Lords on its European Union withdrawal bill on Wednesday as peers are expected to support a cross-party amendment to keep an open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

A fourth senior government figure familiar with the meeting confirmed the customs partnership model, which prompted threats of rebellion from a powerful group of backbench Tory MPs, was firmly out of favor and now looks unlikely to make it to full Cabinet for consideration.

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