Theresa May is heading for a Brexit showdown over the customs union which could sink her government

  • Theresa May is heading for crunch talks with Brexiteer ministers today over plans for a “customs partnership” with the EU after Brexit.
  • Reports suggest Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, and David Davis could quit their jobs if the plan goes ahead, risking a full-blown crisis that would threaten May’s survival.
  • Sixty Tory Brexiteers have also threatened to withdraw their support for the PM over the proposals.

LONDON – Theresa May is heading for a showdown with cabinet Brexiteers today over her plans for a “customs partnership” with the EU after Brexit, as senior Tories warned they were reaching “breaking point” in their support for the prime minister.

In a meeting this afternoon, May will gather her Brexit war cabinet and attempt to persuade ministers of the merits of a customs plan which will keep existing EU tariffs.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, trade secretary Liam Fox, Brexit secretary David Davis, and potentially Michael Gove are opposed to the plan, the Times reports. There are growing reports Johnson, Fox, and Davis could even quit their jobs if the plan goes ahead, risking a full-blown crisis that would threaten May’s survival.

Chancellor Philip Hammond and business secretary Greg Clark are known to support the prime minister’s plan, on the grounds that it could avoid a hard border in Ireland and would give the UK the right to strike its own free-trade deals.

May’s proposals were thrown into even more serious doubt on Tuesday evening, when sixty backbench MPs from the European Research Group, fronted by Jacob Rees-Mogg, sent the PM a 30-page report detailing their objections to the plan.

Members of the 60-strong group have warned they could withdraw support for May and destroy her wafer-thin Commons majority – and potentially end her premiership – if she does not back down.

We’re not in the business of making threats

One leading figure in the group told Business Insider last week that May could be ousted by Tory MPs.

“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,” the MP told BI.

One European Research Group source told the Telegraph: “We have swallowed everything so far – but this is it.”

“If they don’t have confidence in Brexit we don’t have confidence in them. The Prime Minister will not have a majority if she does not kill off the NCP [New Customs Partnership].”

Another senior Tory told the BBC that “the customs partnership is the breaking point” and said they could withdraw support for the prime minister.

Rees-Mogg insisted on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the ERG was not trying to bring down the government.

“We’re not in the business of making threats,” he said.

“We’re very much in the business of supporting the prime minister and the programme of getting Brexit through.

“This is a paper that has been produced on a specific aspect of policy that would not work, that would not effectively take us out of the European Union. It would leave us de facto in both the customs union and the single market.”

May does not intend to reach a full decision today but instead try and win support of Brexiteer colleagues before a full meeting with Cabinet next week, the Times reported.

The customs partnership proposal – drawn up by the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins – would involve the UK collecting customs duties for the EU while being able to set lower tariffs for goods remaining in the UK.

The idea has been rejected by EU officials as “magical thinking” but remains the UK’s main negotiating position.

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