Theresa May risks defeat as Labour joins with Tory rebels in plot to stay in EU customs union

  • Theresa May faces major defeat in her plan to cut all ties with the EU’s customs union.
  • Conservative rebels plan to join Labour MPs in keeping Britain in a customs union after Brexit.
  • Jeremy Corbyn is set to declare his support for a customs union in a major speech on Monday.
  • Labour MPs reportedly believe there is a “60-70%” chance of Britain staying in a customs union.

LONDON – Conservative rebels are planning to back the Labour Party in keeping Britain in a customs union with the European Union after Brexit, in what could be a hugely damaging blow to Theresa May’s plans and authority.

The prime minister has insisted Britain will neither remain in the current customs union or create a new customs union with the EU after it has left the bloc.

However, Jeremy Corbyn will make a keynote Brexit speech on Monday, in which he is set to back staying in a customs union in order to protect British jobs and the invisible border between Northern Ireland and island of Ireland.

Anna Soubry, a leading Tory Europhile, has responded to the Labour leader’s reported new policy by tabling a parliamentary amendment calling on Britain to stay in “a customs union” with the EU after it has left the bloc.

The amendment, which seeks to alter the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill, will be supported by the vast majority of Labour MPs and could potentially receive the backing of enough Conservative MPs to inflict a major defeat on the government.

Soubry says a large number of Conservative MPs have contacted Soubry to declare their support for the amendment.

Defeat on such a central issue facing the government could potentially trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister and trigger a new leadership election.

Some Labour MPs now believe there is a “60-70% chance” of Britain continuing to participate in a customs union with the EU after Brexit, Sky’s Faisal Islam reported on Thursday evening.

A source close to Corbyn confirmed to Business Insider on Thursday that the Labour leader will make a significant speech on the party’s Brexit policy on Monday, following a report by The Times that a speech was planned.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry appeared to drop a big hint on Thursday that Corbyn would use his speech to declare support for staying in a customs union.

“Technically, because we’re leaving the European Union, we can’t be in the customs union we are in now,” Thornberry told LBC.

“We leave and then we have to negotiate a new agreement that, we think, is likely to be a customs union that will look pretty much like the current customs union.”

Both Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith have said Corbyn’s Brexit policy is “evolving” in interviews this week.

Former Labour leadership candidate, Liz Kendall MP, told BI this month she believed Corbyn would “go further” than committing to keep Britain in the customs during transition by vowing to stay in a customs union permanently.

A vote on Soubry’s amendment is not set to take place for at least another two months, The Times reports.

This is because the UK government fears it currently does not have the Commons majority to avoid a defeat which would inflict considerable damage to May’s authority and jeopardise Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Earlier this week, 62 pro-Brexit Tory backbenchers belonging to the eurosceptic European Research Group sent a letter to Prime Minister May, uring her not to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU after it has left.

Staunch Brexiteers oppose continued customs union participation because it would prohibit Britain from signing its own free trade deals after it has left the bloc.

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