Downing Street rules out customs union with EU as Leavers warn of "abuse of language"

Catherine Neilan
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Even former Remainers are now urging the government to leave the customs union and Single Market (Source: Getty)

The Prime Minister has ruled out the UK remaining in the customs union with the EU, after another week of confusion and infighting between the government's Brexit factions.

Downing Street was last night forced to intervene after yet another minister suggested there might be a loophole on the issue. A source said “it is not our policy to be in the customs union. It is not our policy to be in a customs union.”

This morning the official spokesman was even more categorical. He told journalists: "The government’s position was set out in August in a future partnership paper on the customs union. We will be leaving the EU and the customs union and it is not government policy to be members of the customs union or a customs union.

"That paper in August set out two possible options and they are a highly-streamlined customs arrangement and a new customs partnership with the EU."

However, he was unable to explain why, in that instance, the government has included a provision in the Cross Border Trade Bill for the UK to be able to join "a" customs union after Brexit.

Although the official position has always been to leave the Single Market and customs union at the point of Brexit, there has been growing concern among the Eurosceptics that there is a plan afoot to keep the door open to staying in a customs union. Indeed, during her visit to China last week Theresa May refused to rule out involvement in a customs union.

The statement was prompted after Amber Rudd's appearance on the Andrew Marr show, during which she said: “[May] has an open mind on it. We published a document last year saying how we would do it and we proposed either a customs arrangement or a customs partnership. Those are both alternatives we could look at."

One pro-Leave figure told City A.M. this would be seen as a betrayal of the referendum, arguing the change of pronoun from "the" customs union to "a" customs union made no difference to the reality. "It's nothing more than an abuse of language," he said.

Although this will dismay some within her party, other former Remain supporters have now come around to the idea that leaving the customs union would benefit the country more after Brexit.

‚ÄčLast week, former EU Commissioner Lord Hill urged the government to get off the fence and pick growth over continuity.

Former DexEU minister Lord Bridges also weighed in, saying: "We cannot indulge in that very British habit of just muddling through. The Prime Minister must make choices. Keeping every option open is no longer an option".

But not everyone agrees.

Today, Brexit secretary David Davis is hosting a lunch with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier. It is thought May will drop in during the meeting, which Davis said last week would be an "important next step in our work to build new partnership between UK & EU".

However, the Cabinet is yet to thrash out exactly what it wants from an end state. That is expected to take place during a Brexit war committtee on Wednesday and Thursday, when key members of May's top team will meet to decide the details of the government’s policy.

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