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May splits up warring ministers to examine Brexit options

Working groups will consider ‘customs partnership’ and ‘max fac’ solutions in attempt to end Cabinet deadlock.

Theresa May has divided her warring Cabinet ministers into two groups to examine the rival options for Britain’s future customs relationship with the EU.

The Prime Minister has set up the working groups after a meeting of the Brexit “war cabinet” failed to agree a way forward at a crunch meeting last week, sources have confirmed.

One will consider the Brexiteers’ favoured “maximum facilitation” – or “max fac” – solution, based on the use of technology to minimise the need for customs checks once the UK is outside the EU.

The other will look at the “customs partnership” – thought to be the Prime Minister’s preferred option and supported by ministers who backed Remain – which would see Britain continue to collect tariffs on behalf of the EU.

The “max fac” group will comprise Business Secretary Greg Clark and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley – who were both pro-Remain – and the pro-Leave Brexit Secretary David Davis.

Business Secretary Greg Clark (Victoria Jones/PA)

In contrast, the customs partnership will be examined by two Brexiteers – International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Environment Secretary Michael Gove – and a lone Remainer, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington.

The novel approach was said to have been agreed at meetings in No 10 on Thursday between Mrs May and ministers from the two sides.

It came as Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the European Research Group of eurosceptic Tory backbenchers, said the customs partnership proposal “seems to be running into the sand… because it practically doesn’t work”.

He also warned against any extension to the transition period, currently due to stretch for 21 months following the official date of Brexit in March 2019.

He told BBC2’s Daily Politics that remaining in the European customs union after 2020 would be “a dramatic failure of Government policy”.

“The Prime Minister wrote an article for The Sun On Sunday just last weekend saying she was going to leave the single market and customs union,” said Mr Rees-Mogg.

“I trust the Prime Minister to do what she says she will do.”


From Belfast Telegraph