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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Brexit: Downing Street insists UK will still leave customs union

Lawmakers are preparing to debate the issue on Thursday

Theresa May's government claimed to have actually saved money/ Reuters
Theresa May's government claimed to have actually saved money/ Reuters

Downing Street has insisted that the UK will still leave the customs union, the European Union’s trade regime, ahead of a key vote on the issue.

Theresa May’s government faced their first defeat on the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords last week when peers voted in favour staying in the customs union.

However, the government is facing down the pressure as lawmakers prepare to debate the proposal on Thursday.

“We don’t think staying in a customs union is the right thing to do and it isn’t government policy to do so,” a Downing Street source said.

Cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt reaffirmed the government’s position, telling BBC television on Monday that Mrs May’s position had been “very, very clear”.

“She has said that we are not going to be part of the customs union or any customs union. That position hasn’t changed and Downing Street have been clear about that this morning,” he said.

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The customs union sets tariffs for all EU member states meaning goods can be moved from one country to another within the bloc without further taxes being imposed.

However, Mrs May said she wants to leave the trade regime, claiming the UK can make better trade agreements with countries such as the US and Australia outside the bloc.

Some business leaders have warned the move could damage cross-border trade, while Brussels believes the UK staying in the arrangement could help solve the Irish border issue.

Eurosceptic members of the prime minister’s ruling Conservative Party were said to be worried Mrs May would break her promise on leaving the customs union, according to reports on Sunday evening.

A senior government official said Brexiteers in the government were fearful the prime minister might make a u-turn on the issue if parliament rejects her withdrawal plans.

Mrs May is set to hold a meeting of her inner cabinet on Wednesday where Brexit-supporting ministers are likely to press the issue of leaving the customs union.

Foreign secretary and Leave supporter Boris Johnson has warned that not exiting the trade regime would be worse than “no Brexit at all”.

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