LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Tuesday 15 May 2018

Theresa May clashed with Jacob Rees-Mogg at yesterday’s gathering of Tory MPs over Brexit, specifically the Customs Union. The prime minister is reported to have “slapped down very hard” the Brexit hero over his insistence that her government keep the British side of the border in Northern Ireland open, forcing the EU to come up with its own controls – Rees-Mogg’s shrewd calculation is that the EU will not tolerate a free frontier with a market outside of the customs union and will blink first.

“Jacob said, ‘If there was a border poll, I have no doubt we would win, as the UK did in Scotland [in the 2014 independence referendum],’ said a Times’ source.

“Mrs May said, ‘I would not be as confident as you. That’s not a risk I’m prepared to take. We cannot be confident on the politics of that situation, on how it plays out.’”

But rational arguments win you no favours in this political climate. Instead, May sought to make an example of the Brexit hero.

Like Sunday’s Facebook post aimed at voters, the purpose of the meeting, attended by at least 150 MPs was to drum up support for May’s faulty “customs partnership”. The meeting kicked off with a lecture by the PM’s chief of staff over the dubious benefits of Britain remaining in the Customs Union, but with the ability to offer discounts on the EU’s common external tariff, hardly the most enticing prospect for Britain’s commercial partners the world over compared to conventional trade deals. Besides, this unprecedented system is widely viewed as unworkable.

Curiously, the prime minister herself did not bring up the customs partnership. Judging from the Times’ reports, she had Rees-Mogg in her sights from the outset.

Today, she once again convenes her “Brexit war Cabinet” to discuss customs. May is now rumoured to be warming up to the “Max-Fac” high-tech solution for the Northern Irish border. No firm commitment to either option is therefore expected to emerge from today’s meeting, more can-kicking instead.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of the General Affairs Council in Brussels, Sweden’s Europe Minister claims Michel Barnier has ruled out both customs proposals being argued over in London.

“Michel Barnier said the two British proposals the cabinet is disagreeing about – none of them are realistic. So he thinks it’s unnecessary to fight about it, as none of them are realistic no matter which one they choose,” said Ann Linde. Theresa May needs to take heed of Rees-Mogg’s modest proposal to put Brussels on the back foot and stop being the wrong kind of “bloody difficult woman”.

On a more positive note, at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has declared the prospect of Britain remaining in the European Economic Area “dead”. The move is well-timed, following a Lords amendment last week to keep Britain rotting in the Single Market. Yesterday, Tory rebel and former fake-Leaver Sarah Wollaston said she would support the amendment when it reaches the Commons. At the weekend, Corbyn’s Brexit spokesperson, Keir Starmer completely dismissed the already poorly disguised policy of keeping Britain in the Customs Union. Let’s hope Corbyn can keep Starmer and the many other Labour Eurofanatics in line.

Finally, the Spanish are in a tantrum over Gibraltar again. And again, the issue is with the Rock’s airport, which Madrid wants to be patrolled by Spanish police. “The Spanish crossed a red line,” a source familiar with the talks told the Telegraph. “They want to get their Guardia Civil and police into Gibraltar and we’re not having it.”