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Brexit: PM given 'ultimatum' on European Union customs partnership option

03 May 2018

The prime minister's spokesman said her views were "evolving" after 60 MPs signed a letter condemning proposals for a customs partnership as "Brexit in name only".

Under the plan, Britain would collect tariffs on the EU's behalf at ports and airports, passing on a share of the cash to Brussels.

Theresa May and Cabinet ministers have expressed "strong disappointment" at a string of fresh defeats in the House of Lords over the EU withdrawal bill, with Liam Fox accusing unelected peers of trying to block the United Kingdom from leaving the European Union.

"They were concerned about how we would run a new customs partnership on the one hand, and they were - in the context of Northern Ireland - objecting to the notion of exempting small businesses from the streamlined arrangement".

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Robbins believes the plan would avoid the need for a hard border in Ireland while keeping the United Kingdom out of the European customs union. The two proposals are meant as alternatives to that.

On Wednesday, her minister for the cabinet office, David Lidington, said it would most probably take a few weeks to decide on a final position, playing down any expectations of a quick decision at Wednesday's meeting of the Brexit committee. "The reality is pretty stark - David Davis is clueless".

Cabinet supporters of May's preferred approach, including Philip Hammond and Greg Clark, believe it has a better chance of avoiding the risk of a hard border in Northern Ireland by allowing traders to move goods freely.

Failure to come up with a solution could leave the United Kingdom forced to fall back on the European Commission's "backstop" option, which would effectively draw a customs border down the Irish Sea. "So, there's a variety of mechanisms, but they don't require border infrastructure".

The light-hearted exchanges following a warning from Tory Eurosceptics that a proposed "customs partnership" with the European Union after Brexit is unacceptable.

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Continuing pressure from within her own party essentially forces the Prime Minister back to her original position, on which she was forced to compromise when the House of Lords voted April 18 to oppose her plan to fully withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Customs Union.

Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of political consultancy Eurasia Group, said with talks in Brussels at a standstill, negotiators would be watching the evolution of the government's stance closely.

"Under no circumstances can the prime minister ... crash the United Kingdom out of the European Union without a deal", he added.

This is a problem that has received a lot of attention, and is seen as a key sticking point in Brexit negotiations - and yet the government is yet to offer an explanation for how a hard border will be avoided apart saying things along the lines of "technology can solve this".

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Brexit: PM given 'ultimatum' on European Union customs partnership option