Brexit weekly briefing: Boris Johnson launches customs union broadside | Politics
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Top storiesIt was all about the customs union again as Theresa May’s cabinet continued to tear itself apart over how best to limit the damage to the UK economy from leaving the EU while at the same time keeping the government’s Brexit promise to voters.
The new home secretary, Sajid Javid, joined the Brexiters Liam Fox, David Davis, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove on the cabinet’s key Brexit subcommittee in rejecting the prime minister’s favoured “customs partnership” as a) unworkable and b) keeping the UK closer to the EU than they would like.
Davis later told parliament that both that plan, under which the UK would collect import duties on behalf of the EU, and its more technology-focused alternative, known as maximum facilitation or “max fac”, were still on the table (although the EU27, of course, have already ruled both out).
May, who professed her “absolute determination” to make a success of leaving, sees the partnership as the only way to deliver on the Brexit she has pledged – a point underlined by moderate Tories led by the business secretary, Greg Clark, who warned of thousands of jobs at risk unless frictionless trade was maintained.
With the prime minister under mounting pressure from both sides, the customs partnership plan temporarily withdrawn for “more work”, and European Economic Area (EEA) membership now reappearing via a string of cross-party amendments in the Lords, Johnson has fought back hard, openly criticising his leader’s “totally untried” and “crazy” preferred option:
It’s not taking back control of your trade policy, it’s not taking back control of your laws, it’s not taking back control of your borders and it’s actually not taking back control of your money either.
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In the Guardian, Rafael Behr predicts the final Brexit agreement will be a mess that its cheerleaders will eventually abandon:
There is a mismatch between leave culture, which thrives on heroic simplifications, and leaving in practice, which is a labyrinth of unheroic complications. The deeper into the maze May plunges, the harder it gets for those who campaigned with promises of a swift and easy escape to express sincere satisfaction with the final product. Many Tories will decide that any Brexit is better than none. They will murmur their assent to May’s deal and, once Britain has been bundled out of the EU, agitate for new leadership. They will not reject May’s Brexit, but nor will they rush to own it, because none of the advertised benefits of leaving the EU will materialise. The remainer tribe isn’t going to renounce its metropolitan mores just because the cause of remaining in the EU is lost. And the leaver tribe, upon leaving, will cling to grievances that were channelled against Brussels but not caused there. Neither side will cherish May’s messy deal and, because it will be unloved in the country, few MPs will have much incentive to defend it. Brexit is the adopted child of a whole generation of politicians. It will be an orphan one day.In the Independent, Matthew Bevington and Anand Menon argue that the cabinet’s battle over the customs union is an insult to our intelligence:
The current debate about customs arrangements is not fit for purpose. Neither of the alternatives that were discussed in the Brexit cabinet committee last Wednesday is practical … Moreover, regardless of their technical, temporal or political practicality, the kinds of arrangement being mooted by the government depend on a significant amount of trust between the parties. This, to say the least, is in short supply. It undermines the UK’s credibility to continue promoting obviously unworkable solutions and damages goodwill in the negotiations. The government’s continued insistence that a trade deal will be completed by October – an absolute impossibility – is another instance of it insulting the intelligence of anyone taking the negotiations seriously. And the EU is even less likely to do so as the British government is currently up in front of the European court of justice charged with failing to crack down on customs fraud by Chinese clothing importers. Almost two years after the referendum, we do not know what we want, the ideas we have suggested are unacceptable not only to the EU but to half the cabinet and a large number of MPs, and we still are not even talking about potential outcomes that are practically possible. This is a farce, but could easily turn into a tragedy.