Theresa May is facing unrest within the top ranks of the Conservative Party amid reports the Prime Minister will break her promise to take the UK out of the European Union’s customs union.
A Sunday Times report suggested May is preparing to concede defeat on the trading arrangement after the House of Lords voted last week to stay in a customs union - and the prospect of MPs backing the same position in the Commons.
The report suggested that despite the concession, not even leading Brexiteers including Michael Gove and Boris Johnson would quit the Cabinet in protest.
Amid the speculation, Cabinet minister Sajid Javid on Sunday insisted the UK “must leave” the customs union.
He tweeted: “British people gave politicians clear instructions through EU referendum. Includes leaving the Customs Union, an intrinsic part of the EU. Britain must leave CU and be able to negotiate & sign own trade deals.
“Some see the CU as some kind of post-Brexit comfort blanket. But they’re only thinking about the past referendum, not the UK’s future. Let’s look forwards with confidence.”
British people gave politicians clear instructions through EU referendum. Includes leaving the Customs Union, an intrinsic part of the EU. Britain must leave CU and be able to negotiate & sign own trade deals https://t.co/9jUlNaWPMt— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) April 22, 2018
Some see the CU as some kind of post-Brexit comfort blanket. But they're only thinking about the past referendum, not the UK's future. Let's look forwards with confidence.— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) April 22, 2018
Gove, the Environment Secretary, added the UK needs to “take back control of trade - that means leaving the protectionist Customs Union”, without referring to the Times story.
Sajid is right - the referendum vote was clear - we need to take back control of trade - that means leaving the protectionist Customs Union https://t.co/60vXDfbXM9— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) April 22, 2018
Last week the Lords voted in favour of keeping the option open of a customs union with the EU after Brexit during negotiations with Brussels, and this Thursday a non-binding backbench vote will be held in the Commons on the same issue.
Treasury Select Committee chair, Nicky Morgan, who jointly tabled the motion to be debated, on Sunday accused pro-Brexit Tories of “sabre-rattling” over the UK’s future customs arrangements with the EU.
She said speculation that May could face a challenge if MPs ended up backing some form of post-Brexit customs union was “deeply unhelpful”.
Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, Morgan said: “If every time Parliament debates this issue or passes an amendment all we end up with is a sort of hysteria and leadership speculation, that is really not in Britain’s interests.
“All this sabre-rattling this weekend is not coming from the section of the party that I represent. It is coming from the pro-Brexit section of the party. And it is deeply unhelpful.”
Meanwhile, Labour is challenging May to settle the UK’s future customs deal with the EU “once and for all” by holding a crunch vote on Wednesday.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, seen by HuffPost UK, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has offered to give up parliamentary time set aside for Labour to ensure a meaningful vote on the issue.
Downing Street’s position is that staying within the EU customs union or joining some new form of union would restrict the UK’s ability to strike trade deals with other countries.
On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Justice Secretary David Gauke said the Government would “win that case” in Parliament.
He said: “The route we’re going for is leaving the customs union but ensuring that we don’t put in place unnecessary barriers to our trade with the European Union.”
The speculation comes ahead of a major week for the future of the UK’s future relations with Europe, with the Lords poised to inflict more defeats on the Government over the EU Withdrawal Bill.