Hardline Brexiteers warn May against regulatory alignment

Rees-Mogg pressures PM, while watchdog finds official Leave campaign broke law

Prime minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Prime minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire


Conservative Eurosceptics have warned Theresa May against proposing any agreement with the European Union that would keep tariffs or regulations aligned after Brexit. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads the backbench European Research Group (ERG), which advocates a hard Brexit, said he could vote against a deal that violated the prime minister’s negotiating red lines.

“It’s not for me to issue warnings to the prime minister. I fully support the prime minister but I cannot guarantee to support a policy that doesn’t deliver on the manifesto commitments,” he told Channel 4 News.

The prime minister has called her cabinet to a meeting at Chequers on Friday to agree a common position ahead of the publication next week of a White Paper on Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Ms May reaffirmed her commitment to leave the customs union, the single market and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. But her chief whip had to reassure the ERG at a meeting on Wednesday morning after reports suggested that Ms May would propose a customs arrangement that would keep tariffs aligned and full regulatory alignment for goods and agricultural products.

What Brexit means

At prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, veteran Eurosceptic Edward Leigh pressed Ms May on her definition of Brexit.

“In agreeing with the prime minister, as I always do, that Brexit means Brexit, and that that generally means taking back control, may I ask her to confirm not only that after we leave the EU we will be leaving the single market and customs union, but that it is her personal position, and the settled negotiating position of her majesty’s government, that we will have full and unfettered control of migration into this country, full and unfettered control in our ability to make new trade deals with the rest of the world and, above all, full and unfettered control of how we regulate our own business?” he said.

Ms May said that, after Brexit, Britain would be operating its own independent trade policy, parliament would be determining its laws and that she would bring an end to free movement of people.

Cost of no deal

Chancellor Philip Hammond and business secretary Greg Clark are expected to outline to the cabinet on Friday the cost to the economy of failure to agree a deal with the EU that retains a high level of alignment. Downing Street insisted on Wednesday that the prime minister continued to believe that no deal on Brexit was better than a bad deal.

But junior business minister Richard Harrington warned on Wednesday that a no-deal Brexit would be “completely disastrous” for business. And he criticised ministers who complained in recent weeks about businesses warning of the consequences.

“I perfectly understand why Airbus and other companies who have so much invested in this country and employ so many people, are responsible for hundreds of millions if not billions of pounds of exports, of course they’re worried. They’ve got every right to say that,” he told Bloomberg.

The former chief executive of Vote Leave, the official pro-Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, admitted on Wednesday that the Electoral Commission had concluded that the group broke election funding laws.

Matthew Elliott said the elections watchdog had concluded that Vote Leave should not have donated £680,000 of surplus cash to a smaller pro-Brexit group because they were acting in co-ordination.