Amber Rudd refuses to rule out Britain staying in a customs union after Brexit

Jack Stringer/Getty ImagesHome Secretary Amber Rudd.
  • Amber Rudd suggests her government could perform a U-turn and keep Britain in the customs union.
  • The Home Secretary refused to confirm Theresa May’s current policy of leaving the customs union.
  • Rudd is already under pressure to resign from the Cabinet over her handling of the Windrush fiasco.
  • The prime minister slaps down Rudd and says Britain definitely won’t stay in a customs union with the EU.

LONDON – Home Secretary Amber Rudd has refused to rule out Britain staying in a customs union after Brexit in a surprise break from UK government policy.

On Thursday reporters asked Rudd, who campaigned to Remain in the EU during the referendum, if she believed Britain will ultimately leave the customs union.

In response, the Home Secretary – who is already under pressure over her handling of the Windrush scandal – said:

“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, consensual, easy way amongst some of my cabinet colleagues in order to arrive at a final position.”

The government’s official policy is that Britain will leave the EU customs union and will not join any new customs union with the EU.

Rudd’s refusal to repeat government policy was quickly jumped on by the Labour Party.

Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, said Rudd’s remarks showed that May’s government is considering performing a U-turn on the issue.

“Amber Rudd appears to have let slip that discussions around the Cabinet table about negotiating a customs union with the EU have not in fact concluded,” Starmer said.

“If that is so, then the Prime Minister should rethink her approach and listen to the growing chorus of voices in Parliament and in business that believe she has got it wrong on a customs union.”

Rudd later sought to clarify her comments, tweeting that she “should have been clearer”.

“I should have been clearer – of course when we leave the EU we will be leaving the customs union. I wasn’t going to get into ongoing cabinet discussions about our future trading relationship,” she wrote.

Conservative Brexiteer Peter Bone appeared to call Rudd’s future into question in the wake of the comments.

“At the press gallery lunch today, could not understand why Amber Rudd did not support government policy to leave the Customs Union. We cannot have Home Sec not supporting this key plank of Brexit!” he tweeted.

Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs have told Business Insider that they are prepared to oust Prime Minister May if she commits Britain to a customs union with the EU after it has left the bloc.

“Brexit means leaving the customs union and ultimately if Brexit isn’t delivered there will be a lack of confidence in the government, both in parliament and in the country,” one told BI this week.

“If that’s the case then we’re heading for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister and a general election. I would support that vote of no confidence.

“We can’t back down on that. It is so fundamental. I can’t back down on delivering on the will of the people.”

A spokesperson for the prime minister reiterated that Britain will cut current customs ties with the EU and will not seek to replicate them in a new arrangement.

“The government is absolutely clear that we are leaving the customs union and we are not joining a customs union,” they said.

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