Theresa May ‘may have to bow to parliamentary pressure’ over customs union

A senior Downing Street aide reportedly said the PM and her top team 'will not be crying into our beer' if Parliament forces the government’s hand

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 22 April 2018 15:27
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House of Lords defeat Government on EU customs union withdrawal bill

Theresa May’s team have reportedly accepted that she may have to bow to parliamentary pressure to keep Britain in a customs union with the European Union.

It follows an embarrassing defeat in the House of Lords last week when peers in the upper chamber voted in favour of a customs union after Brexit and reports that around a 10 Tory MPs are prepared to vote in favour of membership in the Commons.

The Prime Minister – since her Lancaster House speech in January 2017 – has repeatedly insisted that Britain will leave the customs union in order to pursue free trade deals across the world.

But senior Downing Street aide told The Sunday Times that in a meeting last month it was said that the Prime Minister and her top team “will not be crying into our beer” if Parliament forces the government’s hand on the issue.

While such a move would be popular with business leaders and pro-EU MPs, it would be hugely contentious within the Conservative party itself and would almost certainly enrage Brexiteers.

According to the newspaper officials in Downing Street predicted Michael Gove, the environment secretary, and David Davis, the Brexit secretary, will not resign in protest while the foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the international trade secretary would be likely to quit their Cabinet posts.

In response to the reports, a Downing Street source told The Independent: "Government policy hasn't changed -- we are leaving the customs union."

On Sunday, the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, also wrote to the Prime Minister offering to free up Wednesday this week in the Commons so that the government can bring forward a vote on the highly-contentious issue.

In his letter, he wrote: “The government cannot indefinitely delay the passage of legislation through the Commons for fear of defeat on crucial votes.

“If a decision is not made until June then that will leave just three months to negotiate the details of the final agreement.”

The apparent admission came as David Gauke, the justice secretary, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that the government needs to make the case to MPs for leaving the customs union after Brexit.

Ahead of a fresh Commons showdown on the issue, he said: “The job of those of us in Government is to persuade Parliament that the route going forward, leaving the customs union, but ensuring that we don't put in place unnecessary barriers to our trade with the European Union.

"We can make that case to Parliament. I think we can win that case. I think we have got to win that case and that is my determination."

And Liz Truss, the chief secretary to the Treasury, also told Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar's Politics: “It is very important that Parliament doesn't seek to bind the Prime Minister's hands.

"It's already a negotiation that has a lot of complex aspects to it."

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