DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party is in discussions with Prime Minister Theresa May about supporting her proposed “new customs partnership” for after Brexit.
The idea has been rejected by the British government’s Brexit Cabinet sub-committee as “unworkable” and byTory Brexiteers led by Jacob Rees- Mogg. Mrs May relies on the DUP’s 10 MPs for her working majority in the Commons.
The DUP was alone among parties in Northern Ireland in supporting Brexit as a majority of voters there votes to stay in the EU. Mrs Foster told the BBC on Sunday that she had spoken to Mrs May about her customs plan as recently as Saturday.
“We don’t believe that we have to stay in the customs union to have free flow between ourselves and the Republic.”
The Prime Minister was reported to have told her Brexiteer colleagues that unless they accept her compromise plan MPs in the Commons could push through a Customs Union.
Meanwhile Business Secretary Greg Clark confirmed that the Prime Minister’s rejected customs partnership plan is still on the table. He said more work was also being done on the government’s second maximum facilitation, or ‘max fac’ option, technology (as yet undeveloped) and trusted trader schemes to alleviate delays at the customs border.
He said that under the customs partnership plan the UK could set its own tariffs and trade policy, but only once new technology had been developed to track goods arriving in British ports to determine whether they were destined for the EU or for the domestic market.
Mr Clark said the plan would help companies like Toyota retain “just in time” production methods because it would remove the need for a customs border between the UK and suppliers in the EU. He said Toyota is about to make a decision on where to locate its new motor plant – the UK or in the EU.
The leader of the Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg said the customs partnership would also require Britain to stay in the single market to remove the need for regulatory checks at the border and he and his followers would see it as betrayal of Brexit.
Leading pro-European ‘Remainer’ and former Minister Anna Soubry suggested she would drop her amendment calling for a customs union if Mrs May’s compromise proved good for business and helped keep the peace in Northern Ireland.
The head of the CBI Carolyn Fairbairn also endorsed Mrs May’s plan. She said Britain’s businesses want to stay in a customs union unless and until a better alternative is ready.
“The single most important Brexit priority for British manufacturers is to protect frictionless trade with the EU. Hundreds of thousands of jobs across the UK depend on it,” she said.
The Business Secretary Mr Clark also suggested that whichever customs model Britain opted for pursued, it would not be fully operational by January 2021, when the Brexit transition period ends.
He suggested Britain would seek to stay in a customs union until new technology was ready.
“I think it would be a mistake to have to move from one situation to another and then to a third,” he said.