Exclusive: Theresa May warned she will be ousted by Tory MPs for customs union 'betrayal'

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  • Exclusive: Theresa May could face a vote of no confidence if she surrenders on plans to leave the customs union after Brexit.
  • Leading Conservative Brexiteer tells BI he would back a no-confidence vote and a general election if May betrays her promise to cut customs ties with the EU.
  • “She will be crying into her beer,” the MP tells BI.
  • The House of Commons is today expected to back a vote on a motion supporting retaining customs ties with the EU.
  • Conservative Remainers tell BI they are increasingly confident that Downing Street is shifting in their direction.

LONDON – Conservative MPs will back a vote of no confidence in prime minister Theresa May if she surrenders on plans to leave the EU customs union after Brexit, one of the party’s leading Brexiteers has told Business Insider.

A report in last week’s Sunday Times quoted one of May’s advisers saying that she and her team “will not be crying into our beer” if they are forced to retain customs ties with the EU.

Conservative Remainers are also increasingly confident that the prime minister is preparing to retreat on her promise that the UK will not be a member of a customs union when it leaves the EU.

This has privately enraged Conservative Brexiteers, with one telling BI that surrender on the customs union “would be a betrayal” which the prime minister would pay for with her job.

“She will be crying into her beer,” said the MP, who is a leading member of the Eurosceptic European Research Group of Conservative 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 – Conservative MP

“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.

“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.”

The MP, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that Conservative Brexiteers would remain quiet until after the local elections had passed at the start of next month, but that a reckoning could follow soon after.

“There’s an uneasy truce now because of the local elections and we know that voters don’t want divided parties,” they added.

“But I can see the bear pit that is being laid for her and I don’t want her to fall into it.”

Conservative Remainers scent Brexit victory

Anna Soubry and Nicky MorganChris J Ratcliffe / GettyConservative Remainers Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan

Conservative Remainers believe such threats are a bluff and are on Thursday afternoon set to back a House of Commons motion on remaining inside a customs union.

The vote is non-binding. However, Tory Remainers have also signed up to a series of binding amendments to upcoming government legislation that could force May to change course and accept remaining in a customs union.

Brexiteers have put pressure on May to turn these votes into “confidence” motions in her leadership and therefore force Conservative Remainers to come onside. However, many Conservative Remainers believe such threats are a bluff which neither May nor Brexiteer MPs will actually follow through on.

“[ERG leader] Jacob [Rees-Mogg] has already made it clear that the votes will not be confidence motions,” Conservative Remain-supporter and former Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, told Business Insider.

“We all understand that we have the Fixed Term Parliaments Act that prevents that from being the case.”

Morgan plays down the significance of today’s vote, pointing out that many MPs will be out of parliament campaigning in the local elections. However, she suggests the vote will show that there is a majority in the commons to retain customs ties with the EU.

“There’s always been a suspicion that the majority of the House of Commons is not in favour of leaving the customs union and this will test that,” she tells BI.

There’s always been a suspicion that the majority of the House of Commons are not in favour of leaving the customs union and this vote will test that – Nicky Morgan MP.

Morgan is backed by fellow Conservative remainer Jonathan Djanogly MP, who tells BI that he is confident the government is shifting in the direction of retaining customs ties.

“For the majority of Conservative MPs it’s more of a question of giving the prime minister a chance,” he tells BI, adding that the planned rebel amendments to upcoming legislation on the customs union may not even need to go ahead.

“I absolutely do think the policy will change [before then]” he says.

Djanogly says the prime minister will inevitably end up backing some form of customs union in everything but name.

“For the majority of my colleagues, whether it’s called a customs union arrangement, or a partnership, if it means businesses won’t have to pay tariffs or have trucks backed up 70 miles at Dover then they won’t care what it’s called.

Djanology thinks other shifts in government are likely too. The government has so far promised that Britain will end its Brexit transition period in December 2020. However, Djanogly tells BI that position is likely to shift.

“I think it’s inevitable there is going to have to be some sort of extension on the implementation period,” he says, adding that there simply isn’t enough time to complete the Brexit process before then.

“It’s now not even remotely suggested that we are going to have a trade deal by this October,” he adds.

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