D-Day for May: PM will today ask her Brexit war cabinet to agree plan to keep Britain in customs union after furious DUP MPs last night rebelled against Tories in vote and threatened to bring the government down
-Theresa May’s backstop plan would keep mainland Britain in customs union
-Northern Ireland would remain in the single market to stop a hard Irish border
-The DUP’s 10 MPs did not vote on a Labour amendment to an agriculture bill
-Party sources have said they could sink the Government by blocking the Budget
Theresa May will today ask her Brexit ‘war cabinet’ to support a plan to keep Britain in a customs union, after the DUP last night abstained from a Commons vote and threatened to bring the Government down.
The PM will ask ministers to back an interim deal, keeping the whole of the UK in the EU customs area in order to avoid a ‘hard border’ in Northern Ireland, which would remain in the single market until a permanent deal with Brussels was agreed.
It came after the DUP – whose 10 MPs are keeping Theresa May in power – did not take part in a fairly routine vote on a Labour amendment to the Agriculture Bill last night.
Sources within the DUP said it was a warning shot to the PM and that they could bring down the Government by voting against the Budget on October 29.
Senior DUP sources had warned that their 10 MPs would vote against the budget at the end of this month, potentially leaving May without a majority, if she gave away too much at next week’s crunch summit in Brussels, abruptly ending the confidence and supply agreement that has kept May in Downing Street.
A few hours later, DUP leader Arlene Foster, in Brussels for talks with EU officials, said that she had “been telling people about our red line” and added: “We can’t have a customs or regulatory barrier in the Irish Sea because that would cause us to be a rule-taker from Europe.”
The DUP threat comes days after the hard-Brexit ERG indicated that its MPs – thought realistically to amount to around 40 – would also be prepared to vote against the budget a few days after it is delivered by Philip Hammond on October 29.
Downing Street insisted that a defeat on the budget would not amount itself to a vote of no confidence under the terms of the fixed term parliament act, but in reality failing to pass a finance bill would amount to a humiliation for Theresa May, and put her position as prime minister in jeopardy.
Boris Johnson added to the pressure on May, saying that he feared that in order to placate the DUP, May would negotiate a different customs backstop that “makes the UK a permanent EU colony” because it would keep the whole of the UK inside the EU’s customs union if a free trade deal could not be agreed by December 2020, the end of the transition period.
“We cannot escape EU laws and [the] ECJ until they allow us to – which they may never do. That’s not what the biggest majority in our history voted for,” the former foreign secretary tweeted.
Last December the UK and EU agreed there would be regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the event of no deal, the so-called backstop. At the same time both sides agreed there would be no barrier in the Irish Sea after the DUP objected. These contradictory aims sowed the seeds for the current impasse.
Cabinet ministers expected to attend the Downing Street briefing include foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and home secretary Sajid Javid, both of whom are considered key figures in cabinet, as well as cabinet office minister David Lidington and Michael Gove and Gavin Williamson.
The expectation is that they, and other senior members, would be given an informal insight into the negotiations ahead of a critical meeting of the full cabinet on Tuesday morning, which will have to sign off May’s position ahead of the European summit on the Wednesday and Thursday.
The ex-minister was hitting back at former Brexit secretary David Davis, who had warned on Tuesday that if May remained on her current course, by signing up to a “common rulebook” for food and goods after leaving the EU, it would have “dire consequences” at the ballot box.
Rudd told her colleagues: “The electoral consequences of our decision are not the first thing the government is thinking about anyway, but the politics are pretty much the same as the economics. They dictate a willingness to compromise and an adherence to realism and common sense.”
May, meanwhile, publicly signalled for the first time that she was hoping to win the support of Labour MPs to endorse her Brexit deal when it is subject to a meaningful vote at around the end of November, if the negotiations successfully conclude.
The prime minister was asked by Ken Clarke, the veteran pro-EU former chancellor, to ignore hardline Brexiters and bring forward a deal acceptable to centrists MPs on both sides of the Commons, which he said would reveal that “hardline Eurosceptic views” of the “Bennites” in the Labour leadership and the “rightwing nationalists” on the Tory benches were in a minority.
In response, May said: “I would hope that everybody across this whole House will put the national interest first” in a clear pitch for the votes of Labour MPs. It had been reported that as many as 30 Labour MPs might be prepared to vote with May if the alternative was a “no-deal” Brexit.
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