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Wednesday 16 May 2018

Theresa May’s desperate bid to win approval for her “cretinous” customs partnership has taken another hit. David Davis has told the prime minister he believes the totally unprecedented concept is illegal and should be ditched.

According to the Times, Davis has sent a letter to the PM expressing his opposition to the customs partnership. The Brexit Secretary paints a troubling picture, in the event the EU somehow agrees to Downing Street’s plan – which it has described as “magical thinking” – and then lost a legal challenge under international law, “in that scenario you’d end up staying in the customs union because you’d have no other choice,” says a senior source.

The attorney general’s office has now been asked to provide an urgent legal opinion before the inner Brexit Cabinet makes a final decision. Needless to say, no progress was made on the subject of customs at yesterday’s meeting. In fact, the agenda focused on other matters, principally, the government’s forthcoming white paper on Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

The 100-page document is viewed as an effort by the government to re-energize stalling talks with Brussels. Davis said it will provide “detailed, ambitious and precise explanations of our positions… it should set out what will change and what will feel different outside the EU.”

All well and good, but phase two of the talks, which were in theory triggered through mutual agreement over withdrawal in March, are yet to begin proper only because May’s government has so far failed to come up with a third way solution to the Irish border. The EU has said it will not meet at the negotiating table over trade until either that happens or May concedes defeat and accepts a border in the Irish Sea, or continued membership of the Customs Union.

De facto deputy prime minister David Lidington did the media rounds this morning to drum up interest in the white paper, but instead filled the airwaves with drivel. Example A:

“We want to demonstrate that we have thought this through.” Oh dear.

Labour are repeating their new favourite trick of using a “humble address” – a motion carrying the weight of the Crown behind it – to force the government to reveal details of the two customs proposals. Jeremy Corbyn hopes to unearth the underlying data and research behind the two proposals but also evidence of yet more division within the Cabinet that has characterized this unnecessarily fraught issue.

Labour successfully used the humble address last year to access the government’s Brexit impact assessments. The party also plans to use the parliamentary device to uncover the full extent of the Windrush scandal.