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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

UK's May facing Brexiteer revolt over customs union

Pro-Brexit lawmakers have handed Mrs May an ultimatum

A Brexit supporter. Erik S Lesser / EPA
A Brexit supporter. Erik S Lesser / EPA

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May is facing a revolt from pro-Brexit lawmakers within her own party over plans for the customs union when the UK leaves the EU.

Senior politicians have handed Mrs May a so-called “ultimatum” demanding she abandons the idea of the UK entering a “customs partnership” ahead of a meeting of her Brexit war cabinet.

A customs partnership- believed to be the preferred choice of chancellor of the exchequer Phillip Hammond- would see the UK collect EU tariffs on the bloc’s behalf on goods from outside countries and could go some way to addressing the Irish border problem.

However, dozens of lawmakers in the European Research Group (ERG), which is led by top Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, said this option would lead to a Brexit in name only.

“If they don't have confidence in Brexit we don't have confidence in them,” an ERG source told The Telegraph.

“The Prime Minister will not have a majority if she does not kill off the New Customs Partnership.”

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Appearing on BBC radio on Wednesday, Mr Rees-Mogg denied the 30-page document handed to Mrs May was an ultimatum but said that a customs partnership would not work.

“There is no question of there being an ultimatum,” he said.

“This is a paper that has been produced on a specific aspect of policy that would not work, that would not effectively take us out of the European Union.

“It would leave us de facto in both the customs union and in the single market.”

A contentious issue in the Brexit debate, 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, countries in the customs union are not allowed to negotiate their own trade deals on goods around the world. For Brexiteers, the freedom for the UK to strike its own trade deals is central to the pledge to “take back control” after leaving the EU.

Mr Rees Mogg also denied reports that Brexiteers had threatened to “collapse” the government if she accepts the customs partnership option.

He added: “We’re not in the business of making threats. We’re very much supporting the prime minister.”

The government is set to be dealt a further blow by the House of Lords on its EU 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.

The ERG said technological solutions should be found to avoid a hard border in Ireland in its report rejecting the customs partnership.

However, the technology option, which would involve minimising border checks through use of smart cameras and scanners, has been rejected by the Irish government as unworkable.

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