Brexiteers voiced fury today after it emerged Britain could stay tied to the EU customs union beyond 2020.
Theresa May’s ‘war Cabinet’ has agreed an extension as part of a ‘backstop’ that would avoid a hard Irish border if no other solutions are found.
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are said to have raised objections to the idea – but were ‘outgunned’ by other ministers and reluctantly accepted defeat.
Mrs May wants to table the proposals before a key EU summit next month, in an effort to kick-start progress towards a trade deal.
The row erupted as the PM held talks with EU leaders including Angela Merkel (right) and Emmanuel Macron (left) in Bulgaria today
But she is facing a backlash after repeatedly pledging that the UK will leave the customs union in 2020.
senior Tory Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg warned that people did not vote for ‘purgatory’ in the referendum.
The row erupted as the PM held talks with EU leaders including Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron in Bulgaria today.
The issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has emerged as the crunch point in talks with the EU.
A divorce deal struck by Theresa May before Christmas included a backstop that if no other solutions were found to avoid a hard border, the UK would stay aligned to EU rules in key areas.
However, a legal text of the document produced by Brussels since then has been condemned as unacceptable by the PM as it would effectively draw a red line down the Irish sea and split the UK.
The Brexit War Cabinet session this week focused on ways to resolve the standoff, amid threats from the EU to halt wider trade negotiations unless the border issue can be guaranteed.
Ministers have signed off on a counter-proposal for a ‘backstop’ that would UK effectively keep the UK in a customs union beyond the end of a mooted transitional period in December 2020.
To soothe concerns of Brexiteers, it would include a ‘sunset’ clause ensuring Britain does leave in the end. There would also need to be a major concession from Brussels that the UK could implement trade deals with other countries during the extension period.
Senior Whitehall sources stressed that the plan was a fallback, and not ‘something we ever expect to happen’.
Boris Johnson (pictured meeting former PM Gordon Brown at the Foreign Office yesterday) is said to have raised objections to the idea – but was ‘outgunned’ by other ministers and reluctantly accepted defeat
One source said: ‘It’s about providing an alternative to the EU’s border down the Irish Sea.’
But Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Daily Telegraph: ‘The risk of the Government using all its mental energy on the fallback position is that it creates a position that is more attractive than a permanent deal.
‘We have gone from a clear end point, to an extension, to a proposed further extension with no end point. The horizon seems to be unreachable.
‘The bottom of the rainbow seems to be unattainable. People voted to leave, they did not vote for purgatory.’