Chief Brexiteer warns Theresa May not to delay Britain's exit from the customs union

BBCEnvironment Secretary Michael Gove.
  • Chief Brexiteer Michael Gove warns Theresa May against delaying Britain’s exit from the customs union.
  • Conservative MPs have suggested that Britain should stay in the customs union for months after the transition period ends in order to have more time to prepare for Brexit.
  • May’s Cabinet still hasn’t found a workable solution for avoiding a hard Irish border.
  • However, Gove told the BBC’s Nick Robinson he would not support further extension in any circumstances.
  • “I don’t believe in an extension,” he said.

LONDON – Environment Secretary Michael Gove has warned Theresa May that he would not in any circumstances support Britain staying in the customs union beyond the exit date which is currently on the table.

The UK government’s plan is to remain in the European Union’s customs union throughout a 20-month transition period, which would come to an end in December 2020.

However, failure within the Cabinet to come up with a workable solution for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland has prompted speculation that May could seek to remain in the customs union for longer.

May’s Cabinet currently has two proposals – the prime minister’s preferred customs partnership model and the “max-fac” idea preferred by Brexiteers like Gove – which have both been rejected by the EU.

The BBC’s Nick Robinson – who hosted The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning – asked Gove whether he’d support Britain’s customs union membership being extended in order to allow more time to prepare for Brexit.

“Just to be absolutely clear, those who say the customs union should just be extended a few months – like your own friend and colleague Nick Boles (MP) – you are saying no extension at all, in any circumstances, to deal with the customs problem?” Robinson asked Gove, to which the minister responded: “Yes. I don’t believe in an extension.”

Boles, the MP for Grantham and Stamford, had suggested that Prime Minister May should aim to keep Britain in the customs union for a further 15 months after the transition period ends.

However, Gove’s comments come as a warning to May not to delay Britain’s departure from the EU’s core institutions.

Gove, along with Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Liam Fox, has already reportedly pressured the prime minister into siding with their “max-fac” customs proposal rather than the customs partnership model she had originally supported.

Earlier this week, one Cabinet source told ITV, that May’s preferred proposal – which Foreign Secretary Johnson described as “crazy”– was being prepared to “die with dignity.”

A senior EU source told Business Insider that they also believe the customs partnership is now “dead” after Brexiteers in the UK government had “dug in” to pressure May into abandoning it.

The source, close to the European Parliament’s Brexit taskforce, added that they feel a no-deal Brexit is “increasingly likely” with the British side leaning towards what Brussels regards as the least viable of the two options it has already rejected.

Under the customs partnership model, Britain would collect customs union tariffs on the EU’s behalf to prevent the need for checks on goods heading for the European single market when they reach the Irish border. The “max-fac” idea seeks to minimise (but not eliminate) the friction on the border through as-yet undefined technologies.

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