Rees-Mogg: UK retreat from Brexit customs union stance would be ‘bizarre’

Increasing pessimism in Dublin over prospects for Brexit talks

“I trust the Prime Minister. She has said on so many occasions that she will take us out of the customs union,” Jacob Rees-Mogg said.  

“I trust the Prime Minister. She has said on so many occasions that she will take us out of the customs union,” Jacob Rees-Mogg said.  

 

It would be “bizarre” for British prime minister Theresa May to retreat from her stance on taking the UK out of the customs union, the Eurosceptic Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has said. 

His comments come as Irish Government expectations of a shift in the British position towards the customs union have been dashed in recent days, with senior figures in Dublin becoming more pessimistic about the prospects for a breakthrough in the talks before the June EU summit.

Without movement in the British position the Government has been clear that it will block progress on further negotiations on an overall EU-UK trade deal and an agreement on a transition period.
Officials are adamant that the EU strongly backs this position, raising the prospect of a collapse in the Brexit talks at or before the June summit.

Mr Rees-Mogg stressed that taking the UK out of the customs union was a Tory manifesto commitment and said Mrs May should stick to her so-calle Brexit red lines.

“I trust the Prime Minister. She has said on so many occasions that she will take us out of the customs union,” he said. 

“It was in the Conservative Party manifesto. That is the platform on which this country is being governed. It is bizarre to think that she would retreat from that promise.” 

Mr Rees-Mogg took part in a Sky News interview in his Somerset country house which will do little to diminish speculation about his political ambition. 

However, asked if he wanted to be prime minister he said: “No. I like being the Member of Parliament for North East Somerset.” 


Meanwhile, Irish Government expectations of a shift in the British position towards the customs union have been dashed in recent days, with senior figures in Dublin becoming more pessimistic about the prospects for a breakthrough in the talks before the June EU summit.

Without movement in the British position the Government has been clear that it will block progress on further negotiations on an overall EU-UK trade deal and an agreement on a transition period.

Officials are adamant that the EU strongly backs this position, raising the prospect of a collapse in the Brexit talks at or before the June summit.

Several senior Irish sources have confirmed to The Irish Times during the past week that Downing Street had sent strong signals through back channels of an impending move in the British position, with sources mentioning cabinet office minister David Lidington and chancellor Philip Hammond as among those who had privately indicated to Dublin that a significant softening of the British position was imminent.

However, the British also signalled growing problems with the “backstop” commitment, and hoped that a significant move on the customs union would lead to a easing of pressure from Dublin to enshrine the backstop into the withdrawal treaty.

Under the backstop arrangement, which Mrs May gave in December and reiterated at the most recent EU summit in March, the British promised that in event there was no agreement between the EU and UK, it would ensure no divergence between customs and trade rules in the North and South.

This has been interpreted by the EU as meaning that the North would remain in the customs union after Brexit – enraging some Conservatives and Northern Unionists.

Trade talks

It is understood that the European Commission had also been informed of a likely shift in the British position and had signalled its approval.

However, at a crucial cabinet sub-committee meeting in Downing Street on Wednesday Mrs May failed to garner support for her plan for a “customs partnership” with the EU, with Brexiteer ministers uniting to scupper the plan.

According to high-level sources, Mrs May’s “customs partnership” plan did not meet the expectations in Dublin or Brussels, and instead resembled previous British suggestions that have been rejected by the EU side. In any event, Ms May could not generate sufficient support for the plan.

Irish expectations that she was prepared to face down Brexiteer members of her cabinet – losing some if necessary – were left unfulfilled.

There is now a high degree of pessimism in Dublin about the immediate future of the talks.

Both the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney have said they will insist on significant progress on the inclusion of the backstop agreement in the legal text of the withdrawal treaty by the June summit or the trade talks cannot proceed.