Theresa May faces MPs in Commons

Javier Stokes
April 27, 2018

Mr Barnier said Britain is "closing doors" on the EU by planning on quitting the single market and customs union.

That was brought home when interior minister Amber Rudd was forced to clarify her remarks at a lunch with journalists that had seemed to suggest the government was still working out its policy on the customs union.

But Brexit minister David Davis is standing firm.

The debate comes after the Mrs May suffered a setback on the issue with an overwhelming defeat in the House of Lords and with a looming crunch vote on a customs union in the lower house.

It also follows increasing signals from the Brexit talks in Brussels about a formula of language for a face-saving deal aimed at Brexiteers, keeping closest EU-UK trading links after Brexit happens and effectively mimicking British customs union membership.

Labour's Sir Keir Starmer said: "Amber Rudd appears to have let slip that discussions around the cabinet table about negotiating a customs union with the EU have not in fact concluded".

Lawmakers debated yesterday whether Britain should stay in a customs union with the EU after Brexit, as supporters reported growing parliamentary opposition to the government's plans for future ties with the bloc.

As this archly annotated Credit Suisse deck points out, May only has one real option left: Staying inside the EU's customs union.

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Theresa May has been accused of "burying her head in the sand" after it emerged that her Brexit war cabinet will not discuss the future of Britain's relationship with the EU.

The customs union is poison to the hard-Brexit wing of the Conservative party, who regard it as a betrayal of the 2016 EU referendum result, because it would leave Britain's economy tethered to the European free-trade zone.

The Prime Minister does not have to take Brexit - and her own political survival - to the edge of the abyss.

But he said it remains the Government's intention to have a treaty ready for signing immediately after the formal date of Brexit on March 29 2019.

The defeat on Monday is one of several Theresa May's government is expected to face in the Lords as parliament debates legislation that will enact Britain's exit from the European Union in March next year, but the votes, while embarrassing for the Tories, can be overturned by the House of Commons.

Her words sparked an immediate storm as they starkly contradicted Downing Street's restated assurances this week that the United Kingdom would indeed leave the customs union.

"It seems rather perverse that at a time when we want to increase free trade, we're going to put up a whole load of barriers to stop access in that best free trade area that is existing in the world", said Conservative MP Anna Soubry. "We do not want them to become more active and have more to focus on", she said.

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