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Thursday 3 May 2018

As hoped, yesterday ended with Theresa May picking up the pieces of her “cretinous” plan for Britain to preside over a partially independent trade policy without border infrastructure in Northern Ireland after it was reportedly voted down six to five by her inner Brexit Cabinet.

Amber Rudd’s resignation at the beginning of the week proved vital as her replacement, soft-Remainer Sajid Javid, voted against the prime minister’s so-called ‘new customs partnership’.

“Look, I know I’m the new kid on the block. But to me this new customs partnership looks untested and unprecedented. I would have significant concerns about it going ahead,” said Javid upon arrival, according to the Mail.

Gavin Williamson, who also voted Remain, joined in on the defection after expressing “grave concerns”.

Could the 30-page document detailing the proposal’s many flaws sent to Downing Street on Tuesday evening by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group have made the difference? Most probably.

Up until now, the customs partnership had been dismissed on the same grounds as those expressed by Javid, but no one in the mainstream had bothered to flesh out why it would be unfeasible. The report put an end to that, pointing out the difficulties in tracking all goods flowing across open borders with the EU and the massive impairment Britain would face in trying to sell, let alone implement, trade deals through discounts on EU tariffs, rather unilaterally setting them at zero for preferred trade partners.

What is more, The EU would be intimately involved in the whole process and constantly throwing spanners in works. It has already dismissed the customs partnership as “magical thinking”. Speaking before the Lords EU committee David Davis admitted Brussels had “pushed back” on both of the government’s customs proposals: the “new customs partnership” and “maximum facilitation”.

May and her advisers will now be rushing to find an alternative to stick under the EU’s nose for approval at the June European Council. If she fails, trade talks – the only bit anyone on this side of the Channel cares about – will be delayed.

The truth is though, there is no middle way. Javid and the Brexiteers all favour maximum facilitation, which would involve placing cameras and other surveillance equipment along the border in Ireland. Border infrastructure is prohibited under the terms of the withdrawal agreement provisionally struck with Brussels.

Either we stay in the Customs Union, or a derivation of it like this foolish partnership idea or we Leave the EU proper, no deal; that’s the cold hard reality for Leavers and Remainers alike. “The issues with the customs union are, in truth, very binary,” a Whitehall official told the FT, he’s right.

Nevertheless, May and her allies are still holding out for a compromise and are eyeing up Davis and Liam Fox as her swing voters. “She’s got to get a solution that gets Liam and David on side. They are the canary in the mine,” a Cabinet Minister told the Times before adding that “she’s quite a way,” from achieving this.

That’s an understatement, earlier this week, Fox made it clear the Customs Union was “unacceptable”, via back channels, Davis has hinted at resignation. Add the fact that there are no middle options on Customs and an obvious pathway emerges: the prime minister must go back and renegotiate the withdrawal agreement with the threat of breaking off talks, emphasized strongly and with intent, no deal is better than a bad deal.

The Lords remain in Brexit blocking ways. Yesterday, they voted in another amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, this time rubber-stamping May’s no infrastructure commitment in Northern Ireland. The amendment, tabled by Lord Patten, was again voted in by a wide margin: 309 to 241. All the more reason for May to play hardball with Brussels now. The EU Withdrawal Bill will soon be so grotesquely disfigured, Parliament will be running the show.