Theresa May swerves cabinet crisis over Northern Ireland Brexit deal

Brexit secretary David Davis is said to be furious about a fall-back position in which Britain would stay aligned to the EU’s customs union after leaving the bloc (AFP Photo/Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS)

Theresa May has swerved a cabinet revolt following crisis meetings with David Davis, who was this morning rumoured to be on the cusp of resignation.

The Prime Minister and Brexit secretary have been at loggerheads over the Government’s latest backstop plan to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Mr Davis had refused to support a proposal that would allow the UK to effectively stay within the EU customs union and single market for an unspecified amount of time as a fall-back position if no border agreement is reached.

Number 10 has now released the position paper, which states that temporary arrangements to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic should not continue beyond December 2021.

But European Commissioner Guy Verhofstadt poured scorn on the proposal, saying it was ‘difficult to see how UK proposal will deliver a workable solution’. 

The EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that he would ‘examine’ the idea.

And the PM has been accused by political commentators of yet another fudge over the wooly wording of the proposal.

The note reads: “The UK is clear that the temporary customs arrangement, should it be needed, should be time limited, and that it will be only in place until the future customs arrangement can be introduced.

“The UK is clear that the future customs arrangement needs to deliver on the commitments made in relation to Northern Ireland.

“The UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest. There are a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU.”

Cabinet tensions on the backstop initiative emerged yesterday after Mr Davis was believed to be insisting that the UK should be able to unilaterally withdraw from any border agreement in order to maintain leverage with Brussels in ongoing negotiations.

Theresa May is gathering her ministers to try and thrash out the issue of an Irish hard border (AFP Photo/Ben STANSALL)

Theresa May also infuriated the pro-Brexit faction of her party by showing the blueprint for avoiding a hard border to Remainer ministers before letting the Eurosceptic minister see it, The Times reports.

As well as the border dispute, the Prime Minister is also working to appease Remain-leaning members of her party in order to quell a backbench revolt over the EU Withdrawal Bill.

A number of Tory MPs are threatening to inflict humiliating defeats on the Government when the bill returns to the Commons next week by siding with the House of Lords on issues such as the customs union and membership of the EEA.