May on the brink as ministers threaten to QUIT over Brexit plan

May on the brink as ministers threaten to QUIT over plan that could keep UK in EU customs union INDEFINITELY and DUP vows to torpedo government if she breaks Irish border red lines

  • PM trying to hold government together as she thrashes out Brexit deal with EU
  • Ministers fear PM backstop plan means staying in the customs union indefinitely
  • DUP threatening revolt over any concessions that split Northern Ireland from UK
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Theresa May is on the brink today as ministers threaten to quit over plans to keep the UK lashed to EU rules indefinitely.

The PM is under fire from all sides as she races against time to thrash out a divorce deal with the EU that does not tear her government to pieces.

But her latest plan to break the deadlock has caused fury as it could see the UK commit to staying in the customs union beyond 2020 with no hard departure date.

Meanwhile, the DUP is warning it will oust Mrs May if she bows to demands from Brussels for Northern Ireland to stay within the single market. 

The walls are closing on the premier with just days to go until a crunch EU summit that could decide the country’s future.

Mrs May gathered her Brexit ‘War Cabinet’ last night to try and swing them behind her ideas for unlocking the negotiations.

Theresa May (pictured at an event to mark the anniversary of the government’s race audit yesterday) is facing probably the biggest test of her premiership, with just six days to go until a crucial EU summit

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom (pictured), Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, and Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt – who were not invited to the meeting last night – are believed to be considering whether they can go along with the compromise

  • M26 will be closed every night for six weeks so it can be… No-deal Brexit could cause the worst economic crash since…

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Her new ‘backstop’ plan to avoid a hard Irish border would see the UK effectively remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit until a permanent solution to the Irish border problem can be found.

A previous commitment that the UK will have cut ties by the end of 2021 ‘at the latest’ is set to be dropped after fierce resistance from Brussels.

Sources insist that backstop would still be ‘temporary’ and is likely to last ‘months, not years’. 

What would Theresa May’s backstop deal mean? 

The PM’s backstop proposal is designed to ensure there is no hard Irish border.

It would see the whole of the UK stay in the customs union ‘temporarily’ until a wider trade deal is struck.

Northern Ireland would effectively remain in the single market to avoid regulatory checks on the border with the Republic.

The government’s previous plan said that it wanted the UK to stay in the customs union until 2021 ‘at the latest’.

But it is not clear whether the UK would be subject to rules that stop countries striking their own trade deals outside the bloc.

It also remains to be seen whether free movement rules would still apply in Northern Ireland. The Common Travel Area already protects movement between Northern Ireland and the Republic.  

The blueprint would reduce friction on the Irish border but lead to greater checks across the Irish Sea.

These would include health and sanitary inspections for animals and animal products.

The backstop is designed to fall away when a wider trade pact is agreed – which Mrs May says should be based on her Chequers plan for a ‘combined customs territory’ with the EU.

But Liam Fox, Sajid Javid, Gavin Williamson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab all voiced concern about the concession.

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, and Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt – who were not invited to the meeting last night – are believed to be considering whether they can go along with the compromise.

No formal proposal was put to the ministers, but they were asked to agree the ‘direction of travel’ as negotiators seek agreement with the EU.

One Cabinet source predicted the issue could lead to resignations in the coming days, saying: ‘This is going to be a big test for some ministers. Are they willing to accept assurances that this is temporary if those words have no legal force? If not, then they surely have to resign.’

International Trade Secretary Dr Fox, whose plans for trade deals outside the EU would be severely limited inside a customs union, has told friends the proposal would ‘make life very difficult for me’.

However, Government Chief Whip Julian Smith last night urged Tory MPs and ministers to rally round, saying: ‘The Prime Minister and the Government are conducting a complex negotiation that is going well and we should be backing the Prime Minister.’ 

Proposals for a so-called ‘temporary customs arrangement’ were first announced in June as part of ‘backstop’ plans to resolve the Irish border problem.

At the time, the then Brexit secretary David Davis threatened to resign unless a clear end date was inserted, forcing Mrs May to accept the plan would be ‘time limited’.

But Brussels has been implacable in its opposition to an end date, saying the ‘backstop’ plan must be ‘all-weather’. 

Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said: ‘Income tax was supposed to be temporary. Gladstone said it would expire in 1860. 

‘Likewise, the 1911 Parliament Act says it is temporary. Both are still here.’

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab (left) and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox (right) raised concerns during ‘robust exchanges’ at last night’s War Cabinet meeting

Chief whip Julian Smith (pictured in Downing Street last night) has urged colleagues to get behind Mrs May as she tries to get a deal with the EU

Senior ministers Jeremy Hunt (left), Gavin Williamson (centre) and Philip Hammond (right) were at the ‘war cabinet’ meeting where Mrs May outlined her backstop proposals

As pressure mounted on Mrs May last night, a DUP MP called for her to be replaced with a new Tory leader.

The party has become increasingly alarmed that Mrs May will accept Northern Ireland staying in the single market while mainland Britain leaves – something they say would split the UK.

The party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said a new Conservative leader could ‘heal the wounds’ between the two parties.

A new leader taking a ‘different direction’ on Brexit would ‘ensure that the agreement could stay in place’, Mr Wilson said.

How could the DUP force an election? 

The dates of elections used to be decided by the Prime Minister – with the proviso that there had to be one every five years.

But the Coalition introduced the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which sets out a more formal arrangement.

Elections are now held on the first Thursday in May every five years – with the next one due in 2022.

Under the law, early elections can only triggered in two ways.

The first is at least two-thirds of the 650 MPs passing a motion in the Commons.

The other way is for a motion of no confidence to be passed by a simple majority.

That fires the starting gun on a two-week period in which the existing parties can try to form another government.

Only if the 14 days pass with no replacement administration in place is a national vote called.

The arrangements effectively mean that the DUP could vote no confidence once without risking an election that would let Jeremy Corbyn into power.

But Tory MP and former minister Nick Boles delivered an angry response, saying: ‘Conservative leaders are chosen by Conservative MPs and Conservative Party members.

‘Not by MPs of any other party. And we respond no better to threats than proud Ulster men or women do.’

Earlier yesterday, Conservative MP Mark Pritchard underlined the growing levels of unrest by pointing out a Tory leadership contest could be rushed through in as little as a fortnight.

Brussels and London have been trying to play down expectations of a major breakthrough at next week’s summit – but the two sides are thought to be closer than ever before to a divorce deal.

Even if Mrs May can secure an agreement with the EU and win over the DUP, she will still be left haggling over the ‘political declaration’ setting out the framework for a future trade deal.

She wants that declaration to be based on her Chequers blueprint – which would effectively keep the UK in the single market for goods, but diverge on services.

But the EU is resisting the plan, and Tory Brexiteers are implacably opposed, meaning it is it is far from certain the whole package will get past Parliament.

Jeremy Corbyn says he would oppose arrangements that do not keep the UK more closely tied to Brussels – although there are claims that dozens of Labour MPs could defy him.

A band of more than 30 Remain-supporting Tory MPs are forming a movement to bring about a second referendum.

Organisers say the group will vote down whatever Brexit deal Mrs May secures from the European Union.

Meanwhile, Britain’s official economic forecaster suggested last night a ‘no-deal’ Brexit could be as disastrous as the three-day week was in the 1970s. The Office for Budget Responsibility warned there was no precedent for what it referred to as a ‘disorderly Brexit’, making accurate forecasting difficult.

But it said it was ‘worth noting’ that the three-day week of 1974 led to a fall in output of 3 per cent.

The OBR warned a no deal could lead to higher prices, banks reducing credit and shortages of vital goods.

DUP leader Arlene Foster, pictured on a visit to Brussels on Tuesday, has warned that her line against anything that would risk splitting the UK is ‘blood red’

How does Theresa May’s Chequers deal compare with a Canada-style free trade deal?



Britain would stick to EU rules on goods by adopting a ‘Common rulebook’ with Brussels, but not in the services sector.

Theresa May says this would allow the UK to strike free trade deals globally, but the scope would be limited by commitments to the EU.

The blueprint should minimise the need for extra checks at the borders – protecting the ‘just in time’ systems used by the car industry to import and export parts.

The UK Parliament could choose to diverge from these EU rules over time.

But there is an admission that this would ‘have consequences’.


Britain would set up something called a ‘facilitated customs arrangement’.

This would see the UK effectively act as the EU’s taxman – using British officials to collect customs which would then be paid on to the bloc. 

The borders between the UK and EU will be treated as a ‘combined customs territory’.

The UK would apply domestic tariffs and trade policies for goods intended for the UK, but charge EU tariffs and their equivalents for goods which will end up heading into the EU.

Northern Ireland: 

Mrs May says her plan will prevent a hard Irish border, and mean no divergence between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

There would be no need for extra border checks, as tariffs on goods would be the same.

Single market origin rules and regulations would also be sufficiently aligned to avoid infrastructure.



Britain would strike a Canada-style trade deal with the EU, meaning goods flow both ways without tariffs.

As it is a simple free trade deal, Britain would not be bound by most of the rules and red tape drawn up in Brussels.

The arrangement would be a relatively clean break from the EU – but would fall far short of full access to the single market.

Eurosceptics have suggested ‘Canada plus’ in key areas such as services and mutual recognition of standards.

The UK would have broad scope to strike free trade deals around the world.


Technology would be used to avoid extra customs checks on the borders.

As a result goods travelling into the UK from the EU and vice versa would be tracked and customs paid without extra checks.

The EU has suggested this is ‘magical thinking’. 

Northern Ireland:

The EU says the Canada model would mean border controls are required between Northern Ireland and the Republic to protect the single market and customs union.

It insists Northern Ireland must stay in the bloc’s customs jurisdiction in order to prevent that.

Mrs May has signalled she agrees with the analysis – seemingly the reason she is reluctant to go down this route.

But Brexiteers point out that there is already a tax border between the UK and Ireland, and say technology and trusted trader schemes can avoid the need for more infrastructure. 


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