Tory Cabinet minister Liz Truss refused to rule out quitting her role if Theresa May accepted Labour demands for the UK to join a permanent customs union with the European Union.
The Treasury Chief Secretary Liz Truss twice ducked the question of whether she would step down raising the prospect of Cabinet resignations among Brexiteers should the Prime Minister opt for a softer Brexit.
The Labour leader this week wrote to the Prime Minister saying his party could swing behind her deal if she presses for a permanent customs union with the EU as well as close alignment with the single market – a move that triggered a backlash from some of his own pro-EU MPs.
Shadow Cabinet minister Jonathan Ashworth today confirmed that Labour could actively vote for Mrs May’s deal if she agreed the changes in a bid to “bring a very divided country together”.
But Ms Truss warned that such a move would prevent Britain from securing an “independent trade policy” and would “not deliver” on the result of the 2016 referendum.
Asked by Sky News’ Sophy Ridge if she would resign if a permanent customs became government policy, Ms Truss said: “It is not government policy to pursue a customs union… What I’m saying is I want an independent trade policy. I think that’s incredibly important. And I don’t think we would command the support of parliament if we had such a policy.”
Pressed again on whether she could stay in Government under such a plan she said: “I absolutely do not think that should be our policy.”
The warning came as Mr Ashworth – Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary – said the party could vote for Mrs May’s deal if she agreed to the changes outlined by Mr Corbyn.
The Labour leader has also urged the Prime Minister to guarantee that the UK’s rights and protections will continue to “keep pace with evolving standards across European as a minimum”, and called for “clear” commitments that Britain will continue to take part in key EU agencies and funding programmes after Brexit.
Mr Ashworth told Sky News that accepting Labour’s demands would make Theresa May’s agreement “our deal”.
Asked whether that meant Labour could vote for her agreement he said: “If Theresa May can meet the demands that Jeremy Corbyn has set out then Theresa May is essentially backing our deal…
“If that is what is on the table, then we would. Because that is the logic of our position.
“But we believe that position will command support in Parliament. We believe it can bring a very divided country together. And we think the European Union would be prepared to renegotiate on that basis.”
‘RUNNING DOWN THE CLOCK’
Cabinet minister James Brokenshire has meanwhile confirmed that Mrs May will this week ask MPs for more time for talks with EU leaders – who have so far firmly rejected demands to allow changes to the Northern Ireland backstop part of her deal.
Brexiteers fear that the backstop will leave the UK indefinitely bound to the EU’s customs rules if activated, but Brussels views it as the only realistic way to guarantee that there will be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland if talks break down.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, the Prime Minister will on Thursday promise to return to the Commons with an update and fresh chance to table amendments by a new deadline of February 27 – stopping short of the second meaningful vote on her deal MPs had been expecting.
Confirming the reports on Sunday morning, the Communities Secretary told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “What I’m saying is that if the meaningful vote has not happened… Parliament would have that further opportunity by no later than the 27 February.
“And I think that gives that timetable clarity and purpose on what we’re doing with the EU, taking that work forward and our determination to get a deal, but equally knowing that role that parliament firmly has.”
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