Downing Street Denies Being In Jacob Rees-Mogg's Pocket After Accepting His Changes To Trade Bill

Owen Bennett

Downing Street has denied it is in the pocket of Jacob Rees-Mogg after it accepted changes put forward by the hard Brexiteer to key trade legislation. 

The Government confirmed it would now agree to four amendments tabled by the European Research Group of MPs to its Trade Bill – set to be voted on on Monday night.

The move came just hours after another junior ministerial aide quit the Government in protest at Theresa May’s Brexit plan.

One Tory Brexiteer told HuffPost UK that accepting the amendments “may stop the haemorrhaging of any more PPSs [permanent private secretaries] for now.”

They added: “This is a positive step, but I hope the Lords won’t be used as a way of removing these amendments.”

While three of the four amendments broadly support existing Government positions, one seems to go against a key part of the Brexit white paper produced last week.

Under the proposal tabled by Rees-Mogg and other Brexiteers, Theresa May would only be able to agree a deal with Brussels that would see the UK collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU, if EU countries did the same for the UK.

That appears to be in contradiction to the white paper, which states: “The UK is not proposing that the EU applies the UK’s tariffs and trade policy at its border for goods intended for the UK.”

Cornwall North Scott Mann quit as a junior ministerial aide on Monday to protest against May's Brexit plan.

Speaking on Monday afternoon, a Downing Street spokesman repeatedly denied the amendment went against the white paper.

He said: “We have accepted four amendments which we believe are consistent with what was set out and agreed in the White Paper and at Chequers.”

During the briefing, one reporter asked: “If in the event the UK had a higher tariff rate, are you saying that under this amendment we would ask the EU, for example if goods were arriving in Zeebrugge [Belgium], to remit the higher tariff rate back to the UK?”

“That’s a hypothetical,” replied the spokesman.

The other amendments make Brussels’ preferred backstop position of keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union illegal, would stop the creation of a new customs union without MPs’ backing, and would keep the UK out of a shared VAT collection scheme.

While the move by the Government was welcomed by Brexiteers, Remain-backing MPs were furious.

Tory MP Heidi Allen – who has repeatedly fought against what she deems a hard Brexit – tweeted: 

She was backed by fellow anti-Brexit Tory MP Anna Soubry:

Labour MP Gareth Thomas, who backs a campaign for another referendum on the UK’s relationship with the EU, said: “Accepting the ERG amendments means sticking two fingers up to the EU’s negotiators and that Dominic Raab has effectively been replaced as Britain’s chief negotiator by Jacob Rees-Mogg, because he’s the one pulling all the strings and determining Government strategy.

“The EU27 may remain polite but they can read the signals just as well as the rest of us: the Brextremists are now in charge.

“We have just taken a step closer to the catastrophe of a no deal Brexit being forced on us by a combination of Government paralysis and Parliamentary confusion.”

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