THE TORY Brexiteers are starting to split with a number moving to support PM May and a Customs Union with the EU. The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.
Moving to support May is one time ‘Leaver’, Trade Minister Liam Fox.
He has said getting MPs’ support is vital and any deal can be ‘revised’ later. He and Chancellor Hammond are supporting a free trade zone for goods, underpinned by a common rule book, unlike Dave Davis and the Brexiteers outside government who say the plan should be ditched in favour of Canada-style free trade deal.
On a trip to South Korea, Fox said the ‘reality’ facing all those who believed in Brexit was that any deal had to get through the House of Commons, where the PM relies on the Democratic Unionists for her majority, at a cost of £1bn. ‘While I may be very sympathetic with those who take an ideologically purist position, we are also politicians whose job it is to deliver,’ he said.
Environment Secretary ‘Leaver’ Michael Gove has also suggested that anything agreed now can be modified later, but former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has said this is ‘pie in the sky’. Ahead of the next summit of EU leaders later this month, the main sticking point to an agreement remains finding a solution to the issue of avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Both sides are under pressure to modify their so-called ‘backstop’ proposals to prevent the return of physical checks at the border while protecting the EU’s single market and the UK’s internal market. It could include a ‘hybrid backstop’ and ‘light touch’ regulatory checks on goods going between Great Britain and the EU.
There is also the possibility of some kind of democratic oversight by Stormont and a proposal to include all of the UK in the customs union for a time-limited period. This is now favoured by PM May who will be looking to Labour support to get her proposals adopted by parliament, even if the DUP nine vote against, along with a group of Tory Brexiteers.
May’s speech at the Tory Party conference was distinguished by an undisguised courting of Labour’s right wing. Labour’s leaders have already pledged to support her if she supports Labour’s ‘Six Tests’.
The first two of the six tests that May’s EU deal would have to pass are:
1. Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
2. Does it deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union? Labour may yet keep PM May in office, as it dumps its own general election manifesto.