Amber Rudd hints the UK could stay in the customs union
Amber Rudd risks sparking fury in No10 by hinting Britain could stay in the customs union amid Cabinet splits on the issue as Remain MPs call for a U-turn in symbolic Commons vote
- Ms Rudd said Cabinet is still having discussions on staying in customs union
- Home Secretary’s remarks defy Theresa May’s ‘red line’ pledge to take UK out
- Comment comes ahead of expected symbolic defeat on customs union by MPs
- MP Peter Bone said Rudd cannot be Home Secretary without supporting policy
Amber Rudd today risked sparking fury at No10 by hinting that Britain could stay in the customs union – defying one of Theresa May’s red lines.
The Home Secretary – one of the leading faces of the Remain campaign – said the issue was still being debated among warring Cabinet colleagues.
Her remark came shortly before a symbolic Commons vote on whether to stay in the customs union. The Government did not oppose the motion, meaning it was agreed unanimously – but is not binding and will not change policy.
It sparked a furious response from Brexiteers who called for Ms Rudd to go as Home Secretary unless she backs leaving the customs union.
But speaking after the gaffe the PM’s spokesman said she still has the full confidence of Mrs May.
Amber Rudd (pictured in the Commons today) today risked sparking fury at No10 by hinting that Britain could stay in the customs union – defying one of Theresa May’s red lines
The Home Secretary scrambled to try to clarify her comments after they were picked up by the press – insisting that she does accept the UK will leave the customs union on Brexit
It sparked a furious response from Brexiteers who called for Amber Rudd to go as Home Secretary unless she backs leaving the customs union.
If Britain stays in the EU customs union the country must slap the same tariffs on goods as the rest of Brussels – and will not be able to negotiate free trade deals with the rest of the world.
Speaking at a lunch to political journalists today, Ms Rudd was asked directly if she thinks it is ‘more or less likely’ that the UK will stay in the customs union.
She replied: ‘I’m afraid I’m not going to be drawn on that – we still have a few discussions to be had in a really positive and consensual easy way with some of my Cabinet colleagues in order to arrive at a final decision.’
Her remark sparked an immediate slap down from Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg , who is head of the Brexit-backing Tory campaign group European Research group.
He told Mail Online: ‘Government policy is that we will leave the customs union and ministers are bound by the doctrine of collective responsibility.’
Tory MP for Wellingborough Peter Bone, another leading Brexiteer who was at the lunch, said he was ‘gobsmacked’ when he heard the remark.
He told Mail Online: I was amazed. I don’t understand how the Home Secretary couldn’t support the Government’s position on not being in the customs union.’
He said Ms Rudd must ‘urgently clarify’ her remarks.
Soon after the lunch Ms Rudd tried to backtrack on the comment – insisting that she accepts the UK will leave the customs union.
She said on Twitter: ‘Thanks to the Press Gallery for hosting me at a challenging yet enjoyable lunch.
‘I should have been clearer – of course when we leave the EU we will be leaving the customs union.
Theresa May (pictured in the Commons yesterday) has vowed to take the country out of the EU customs union so that the country can become a new free trading nation globally
‘I wasn’t going to get into ongoing cabinet discussions about our future trading relationship.’
Mrs May has vowed to take the country out of the EU customs union so that the country can become a new free trading nation globally.
She said that quitting the customs union is a ‘red line’ and that Brexit voters will feel betrayed if the country leaves Brussels but does not regain control of its trade policy.
Meanwhile, Remainers have launched a large scale campaign to try to force the PM’s hands and keep Britain in the customs union.
The Lords inflicted a defeat on the PM last week on the issue and today MPs are expected to inflict another symbolic defeat by voting against the Government calling for the UK to stay in the customs union.
While the vote will only be symbolic, MPs will get a chance to vote again on the issue next month which will change legislation attempting to force the PM to keep Britain in the customs union.
WHY DO THE CUSTOMS UNION AND SINGLE MARKET MATTER AND WHAT COULD HAPPEN AFTER BREXIT?
When Britain stays in a custom union with Brussels (the European Commissions headquarters is pictured) is one of the main points of Brexit contention
The customs union and single market have emerged as crucial battlegrounds in the struggle over Brexit.
The customs arrangements could decide the fate of the overall deal – as the UK has already said it will ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Here are the main options for what could happen after Britain leaves the bloc.
Staying in the EU single market
A Norway-style arrangement would be the deepest possible without formally staying in the EU.
The single market rules out tariffs, quotas or taxes on trade, and guarantees free movement of goods, services, capital and – controversially – people.
It also seeks to harmonise rules on packaging, safety and standards.
Staying in the EU customs union
The customs union allows EU states to exchange goods without tariffs, and impose common tariffs on imports from outside the bloc.
But they also prevent countries from striking deals outside the union.
Theresa May has repeatedly made clear that the UK will be leaving the customs union.
Forging a new customs union
Some MPs and the Labour leadership have raised the idea of creating a new customs union with the EU.
This could be looser than the existing arrangements, but still allow tariff free trade with the bloc.
However, many Eurosceptics believe it is impossible to be in a union without hampering the UK’s ability to strike trade deals elsewhere.
They also complain that it would mean accepting the EU’s ‘protectionist’ tariffs against other parts of the world in areas like agriculture.
The PM has also ruled out this option.
A customs partnership
Less formal than a union, this proposal would seek to cherry pick the elements that facilitate tariff-free trade – without binding the UK’s hands when it comes to deals with other countries.
One possibility could be keeping the UK and EU connected for trade in goods, but allowing divergence for the services sector.
The partnership option was floated by the government in a position paper last year.
‘Highly streamlined’ customs
This scenario would be a ‘bare minimum’ customs arrangement between the EU and UK.
New technology would be deployed alongside a simple agreement to minimise friction.
But there are fears that this could hit trade, and it is unclear how the system would work with a ‘soft’ Irish border.
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