British government set to publish White Paper on Brexit plan
Hardline Conservatives step up opposition to proposals agreed at Chequers
Brexit campaigner Jacob Rees-Mogg: ‘The amendments will put into law the government’s often stated position that Northern Ireland should be treated the same way as the rest of the country.’ Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters
Theresa May’s government will publish a White Paper on Thursday outlining in detail the Brexit proposal agreed at Chequers last week, as hardline Brexiteers step up their campaign against the plan.
Members of the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative backbenchers led by Jacob-Rees Mogg have tabled four amendments to a trade Bill next week aimed at key elements of the plan.
One of the amendments, backed by the DUP and Eurosceptic Labour MP Kate Hoey, would force the government to make a legally binding commitment to never having a border down the Irish Sea. Another would prevent Britain from collecting tariffs on imports destined for the EU, a central element of Ms May’s customs proposal, unless the EU does the same for Britain.
A third would commit Britain to having a separate VAT regime from the EU and a fourth would ensure that the government would have to introduce primary legislation at Westminster to remain in a customs union.
“The amendments will put into law the government’s often stated position that Northern Ireland should be treated the same way as the rest of the country. They will also ensure reciprocity of customs collection, and treating the UK and EU as equals. They will put into law the government’s stated position that we will not be part of the EU VAT regime. They will finally require any customs union should be created by primary not secondary legislation, so removing a Henry VIII power,” Mr Rees-Mogg said in a statement.
Mr Rees-Mogg said the amendments were designed to encourage Ms May to retreat from the Chequers plan, which he said could only pass with the support of Labour MPs.
“Unfortunately, Chequers was a breakdown in trust. Brexit meant Brexit, but now it appears Brexit means remaining subject to European laws. I believe this will help the government stick to the promises it made,” he told the Sun.
“It may resolve the dilemma the prime minister faces. Does she rely on Labour votes to achieve Brexit or does she change her mind and go back to Lancaster House. Will she stick to her earlier words?”
The trade Bill, which will be debated next Monday, has until now been a target for pro-EU Conservative rebels, who threatened to back an amendment that would keep Britain in a customs union. The Chequers plan appears to have appeased the pro-EU faction within the party, only to incite the hard Brexiteers into open revolt against the prime minister.
Ms May was in Brussels on Wednesday to attend the Nato summit, leaving David Lidington, essentially her deputy, to take prime minister’s questions. Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry used the occasion to criticise the government’s “half-baked” Brexit plan and to poke fun at cabinet divisions following the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson.
“I may know very little about football but even I can see that England’s progress so far at the World Cup shows what can be achieved when all the individual players work effectively as a team, when there’s a clear game plan and when, of course, everyone respects the manager,” she said.