Monday

21st May 2018

Vultures circle over British PM in EU talks

  • May - who originally campaigned for UK to remain in the EU - facing possible revolt by hardline Brexiteers (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Brexit hardliners in British prime minister Theresa May's party have rebelled against plans for an EU 'customs partnership'.

The threat to her authority raised the risk of the UK exiting the EU without an agreement, amid British parliamentary efforts to prevent that scenario.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Davis and others threatened to resign over customs partnership (Photo: European Commission)

The hardline European Research Group (ERG), a clique of 60 Conservative Party MPs led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, issued May its ultimatum in a report last week, which came to light on Tuesday (1 May).

The 30-page file, entitled "Memorandum - the New Customs Partnership", said plans for a customs deal, in which the UK imposed EU customs rules on Britain's borders and collected tariffs on behalf of the European Union, would make it "impossible" for the UK to have an independent trade policy.

"I will not support the customs partnership and doubt many ERG members would either," Rees-Mogg told The Sun, Britain's top-selling tabloid on Tuesday.

The partnership was "incompatible with the Conservative party manifesto" and "completely cretinous", he added in other remarks.

ERG members have threatened to boycott votes in parliament if May goes ahead, questioning her ability to govern, amid an already slender grip on power.

May's party lost its majority in an election in 2017 and relies on the support of a small group of equally hardline Democratic Unionist MPs from Northern Ireland.

Hard Brexit advocates in May's cabinet - including David Davis, her Brexit negotiator, and Liam Fox, her trade secretary - have also threatened to resign if she goes ahead with the EU customs partnership, posing further questions for her government.

"If we're in a customs union of any sort we'll have less ability to shape Britain's future than we have today. That's not what the public voted for," Fox told the BBC.

If hard-Brexit foreign minister Boris Johnson and environment minister Michael Gove joined the rebellion, May's days in office could be numbered.

The party's internecine warfare will come to a head on Wednesday, when May's 11-member Brexit sub-committee meets in Downing Street to discuss EU exit talks.

"We've been absolutely clear that we're leaving the customs union and won't be joining a customs union," the prime minister's spokesman said ahead of the meeting.

Red lines

Some form of customs deal is central to the final Brexit agreement, not least because it must prevent the creation of a hard border in Ireland - a red line for Irish and EU negotiators.

The ERG has called for a "streamlined customs arrangement" in which the UK reintroduced border checkpoints, but used high-tech gadgets to minimise disruption for people going back and forth.

The EU, which does not believe the 'streamlined' model would work, has insisted on a 'backstop' plan in which Northern Ireland remained a full member of the customs union if other arrangements failed.

The Tory warfare on the EU customs deal comes ahead of a looming deadline in October to finalise the Brexit withdrawal agreement before the UK leaves the bloc in March 2019.

But if Theresa May makes it to October with no agreement in place, that would pose even broader questions for the Brexit process following a vote in the British parliament on Tuesday.

Peers in the House of Lords backed an amendment to the European Union Withdrawal Bill, which governs Brexit, by 335 votes to 244 to give MPs the right to vote on the final scenario.

Brexit veto

"What this amendment would do is weaken the UK's hand in our negotiations with the EU by giving parliament unprecedented powers to instruct the government to do anything with regard to the negotiations - including trying to keep the UK in the EU indefinitely," May's Brexit minister, Lord Callanan, said.

"We're disappointed," he said.

The opposition Labour Party's shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, welcomed the creation of the Brexit veto, setting the scene for a parliamentary showdown.

There was "no majority in parliament for a no-deal Brexit", Starmer said.

"Under no circumstances can the prime minister … crash the UK out of the EU without a deal", he added.

Lord Newby, from the opposition and pro-EU Liberal party, said Tuesday's vote had put "parliament in the driving seat".

"Brexit is the most important decision facing the country for a generation and it's vital that parliament - not the government - decides whether or not any Brexit deal is acceptable," Newby said.

May promotes Brexit on 'first-anniversary' UK tour

The British prime minister vowed to "deliver a Brexit that unites" the country, while 44 percent of the public thinks her policy is a "total shambles" but that the decision to leave the EU should be respected.

Feature

At Northern Irish border, Brexit risks hard-won peace

In Protestant and Catholic communities where the 1998 Good Friday agreement put an end to armed conflict, the possibility of a hard border on the island of Ireland brings back fearful memories. A new border could unravel that peace process.

Interview

Don't play EU 'games' with military HQs

The EU should not share out military HQs for political reasons if it wants effective armed forces, Italy's former defence chief tells EUobserver.

Feature

Spain makes bid for EU naval HQ

Spanish special forces seized a boat from African 'pirates' as diplomats watched on Monday, in a drill marking Spain's bid to grab a top EU military mission from the UK.

News in Brief

  1. Trump warns Nato allies' low budgets will be 'dealt with'
  2. Only Estonia, Greece and UK hit Nato spending target
  3. EU to start process to counter US Iran sanctions
  4. Macedonia PM sees 'possible solutions' in Greek name row
  5. EU takes six countries to court over air pollution
  6. New Catalan leader sworn in without reference to Spain
  7. Merkel and Putin revive dialogue in troubled times
  8. European companies putting Iran business on hold

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  2. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  3. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  5. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  7. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  10. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  11. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  12. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May

Latest News

  1. Athens mayor wants direct access to EU migration fund
  2. Nordics could be first carbon-negative region in world
  3. Zuckerberg and Trump top the EU's agenda This WEEK
  4. Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny
  5. Bulgarian PM: No asylum reform without stronger border
  6. Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline
  7. Italian populists to defy EU debt rules
  8. Commission 'playing tricks' with EU budget figures

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  5. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  7. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  8. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight