- Downing Street rules out continued membership of any form of the EU customs union after Brexit.
- The statement comes after senior cabinet members clashed over the issue.
- May’s Cabinet are set for crunch talks on Brexit this week.
- A senior government source says the prime minister wants to “put this to rest.”
LONDON – Theresa May has “categorically” ruled out staying in any form of customs union after Brexit, in an attempt to shut down a growing Cabinet split over Britain’s exit from the EU.
The prime minister has previously remained open-minded about maintaining some form of customs union with the EU after Brexit.
However, a senior government source told BI on Sunday evening: “To put this to rest, we are categorically leaving the customs union. It is not our policy to stay in the customs union. It is not our policy to stay in a customs union.”
A spokesperson for the prime minister added on Monday that the government was instead looking at agreeing either a “highly streamlined customs arrangement” or “a new customs partnership” with the EU.
Asked by Business Insider what the difference was between a customs partnership and a customs union, the spokesperson replied that: The key point as the prime minister has said on many many occasions is that we have to have our own independent trade policy and be able to strike trade deals with the rest of the world.”
The statement followed a weekend in which senior Cabinet figures had publicly clashed over the issue.
On Sunday morning the Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the BBC that the prime minister had an “open mind” about the issue. However, this was later dismissed by housing minister Dominic Raab, who told Sky News that: “I don’t think we’ll be in any form of customs union, at least as conceived in international trade practice.”
The row comes ahead of a crunch meeting of May’s Brexit ‘war cabinet’ which is due to discuss the issue of Britain’s future relationship with the EU later this week.
Friends of the foreign secretary Boris Johnson had briefed at the weekend that he was prepared to help overthrow May if she insisted on keeping Britain in some form of customs union, saying “the cavalry is coming” on the issue.
The Cabinet is split over those who want certainty for business that trade will continue to be able to flow freely with the EU and those who want Britain to be able to rapidly sign free trade deals with the rest of the EU.
Membership of a formal customs union would limit Britain’s ability to sign new deals. However leaked government analysis last week indicated that leaving the single market and customs union would damage Britain’s economy in excess of any economic benefit from a free trade deal with other parts of the world.
The row comes as the prime minister prepares to welcome the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, to London on Monday. Barnier will have lunch with the Brexit Secretary David Davis in Downing Street before meeting briefly with the prime minister.
The meeting comes ahead of the restarting of Brexit negotiations later this week in Brussels. The UK is set to start on the second phase of its negotiation as it seeks to agree a two-year transition period for Britain’s exit from the EU.
EU leaders last week agreed that any transition should be strictly limited to 21 months, with Britain signed up to all existing EU rules and regulations, but with no voting rights over them.
Davis last week acknowledged that such an arrangement would prevent Britain from implementing any new trade deals until at least 2021.
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