Theresa May has been branded “weak” by a European Commissioner, amid continuing deadlock over Britain’s proposals for customs arrangements after Brexit.
Gunther Oettinger, a member of Angela Merkel’s CDU party and ally of the German chancellor, also took a swipe at Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, telling an audience of students: “(He) has the same haircut as (Donald) Trump. That tells you everything.”
The Government was accused by Labour of “subverting democracy” by delaying debate on key pieces of Brexit legislation in a bid to avoid rebellions, following a string of 14 defeats in the House of Lords.
The legislative timetable for the coming period set out by Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom made no mention of Brexit bills, and Downing Street declined to say when MPs would be asked to consider the Lords amendments or bills on trade and customs.
Labour’s Valerie Vaz suggested the Government was “being cynical and parking the trade (bill), customs bill and the EU (Withdrawal) Bill … so as to avoid rebellions”.
She told MPs: “This is unprecedented and the Government is effectively subverting democracy.”
But Ms Leadsom insisted there was “no hold-up”, saying the bills would come forward “in due course”.
Labour MP Wes Streeting, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, said: “The Government is sinking into the quicksand of Brexit, and the more they struggle, the deeper they sink.
“The country is waiting for a plan, but all we are seeing is chaos.”
Addressing students from schools across the EU in the German city of Karlsruhe on Wednesday, Mr Oettinger said: “Mrs May is weak and Boris Johnson has the same haircut as Trump. That tells you everything.”
According to German news agency DPA, he continued: “One can only hope that sensible compatriots will put Mrs May on the path to a clever Brexit.”
Addressing British students in his audience, he said: “I’d like to ask you to start a movement in 15 years’ time to come back into the EU again.”
Mrs May’s official spokesman brushed off suggestions that the comments might reflect a cooling in Berlin’s attitude towards her administration, telling reporters: “The Prime Minister has a very strong relationship with the chancellor in relation to Brexit and a series of other matters.
“We look forward to that constructive relationship continuing.”
The spokesman played down reports that Britain could seek an extension beyond December 2020 of the Brexit transition period to allow time for the introduction of new technology avoiding a hard customs border in Ireland.
“We reached an agreement with the European Union on the implementation period and that agreement is clear that the implementation period will end in December 2020,” he said.
The “maximum facilitation” technological solution is one of two options currently under review ahead of a meeting of Mrs May’s Brexit war cabinet expected next Tuesday, alongside her own preferred customs partnership.
Mrs May was unable to secure the backing of senior ministers last week for the partnership option, which would see the UK collect tariffs on behalf of the EU.
Officials are working on a revised version of the scheme.
"Will you accept a compromise over the customs union" @Jo_Coburn— BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics (@daily_politics) May 10, 2018
"The customs union means we are effectively staying in the EU. So no. Of course not" @Jacob_Rees_Mogg adding gov't was "elected on a manifesto saying we would leave customs union"
"It did not winâ @Alison_McGovern pic.twitter.com/Z9mIGWJc4Q
Prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the European Research Group of eurosceptic Tory backbenchers, said that Mrs May’s customs partnership proposal “seems to be running into the sand… because it practically doesn’t work”.
He rejected any extension to the transition period, currently due to stretch for 21 months following the official date of Brexit in March 2019.
Mr Rees-Mogg 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.”