Brexit War Cabinet To Hold Crunch Meeting On EU Customs Deal

Hannah Rogers
May 3, 2018

Sixty Conservative members of the British Conservative think-tank, the "European Research Group" have sent a letter and 30-page report to Prime Minister Theresa May detailing their opposition to her reported plans for form a customs partnership with the European Union after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

It was a reflection of May's impossible position: Before she can even start trying to sell a deal to the European Union, she has to find a proposal that both her Cabinet and Parliament will support.

May's decision to leave the EU's customs union, which sets tariffs for goods imported into the bloc, has become one of the main flashpoints in the Brexit debate in Britain, pitting companies and pro-EU campaigners against a vocal group of hardline eurosceptic lawmakers. Both are fundamentally split, with each side strong enough to block a plan, but not to push one through.

A decision on Britain's customs arrangements after Brexit has been put off, after a crunch meeting of senior ministers failed to reach agreement.

The Home Secretary and Defence Secretary are understood to have joined senior Brexiteers like Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox in voicing a preference for the so-called "maximum facilitation" arrangement - known as "Max Fac" - which would use new technology to avoid the need for border checks in Ireland.

Former Brexit minister David Jones told BBC Two's Newsnight: "Certainly there would be a lot of very disappointed Brexiteers if we were to end up in a customs partnership".

Business secretary Greg Clark is said to have been "close to tears" as he warned of the potential impact on jobs if the Government abandoned the customs partnership idea.

A customs union option is viewed favorably by the EU and Ireland, but will not be forthcoming.

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Mr Javid and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who both voted Remain in last year's European Union referendum, were understood to have raised firm objections to the customs partnership plan in yesterday's meeting.

A reluctant campaigner against Brexit, he might have been swayed by loyalty to May or the economic voice of Hammond.

Mrs May has insisted that no British prime minister could accept such a scenario.

Minister concluded "urgent further work" on both proposals is needed, one government official said, so that the Cabinet could "consider revised proposals".

When her official spokesman was asked whether this meant more than two options were now on the table, he replied: "Work has been ongoing on two options".

Gavin Williamson, the former chief whip who backed Remain during the European Union referendum, also.

And shortly after the meeting ended, the upper House of Lords inflicted the latest of a series of defeats on May, voting through an amendment to her flagship Brexit bill created to ensure there is no hard border in Ireland.

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