During a series of tense one-to-one meetings with senior colleagues in Downing Street, the Prime Minister insisted her new blueprint for post-Brexit trade links will ensure the UK quits both the EU’s Single Market and the Customs Union.
Hope grew among her allies as the meetings progressed that the compromise proposal will win the unanimous backing of the Cabinet at a special meeting at her Chequers country retreat tomorrow.
Cabinet ministers were yesterday handed details of the PM’s latest customs proposal for the first time. A Downing St source said: “The new model being presented at Chequers on Friday is the best of both worlds.”
And Mrs May vowed to MPs that her plan will mean a full break with Brussels. She used Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons shortly before beginning her round of meetings with ministers to set out her aim.
She told MPs: “The Brexit that this Government will be delivering and is working to deliver is a Brexit that ensures that we are out of the customs union, we are out of the single market, we are out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, we are out of the Common Agricultural Policy, we are out of the Common Fisheries Policy, we bring an end to free movement, we take control of our borders, we have an independent trade policy and that we are also able to have a good trade arrangement with the European Union, protecting jobs and prosperity of the future.”
She added: “After we leave the European Union we will be operating our own independent trade policy, Parliament will be determining our laws and we will bring an end to free movement.”
Mrs May’s new proposal, which combines elements of her previous plan for a New Customs Partnership with the high-tech border system wanted by Eurosceptic ministers, will mean no tariffs on imports from outside the EU as long as business can specify the retail destination of the products.
Downing Street aides estimate that 96 per cent of imports from outside the EU will not need tariffs.
New digital customs technology will be used to swiftly determine the destination of such goods to ensure the tariffs are not charged.
For the remaining four per cent, UK border officials will collect EU tariffs when the goods arrive. Businesses will later be allowed to claim the cash back as long as they can prove the goods were sold in the UK and not exported to other EU countries.
The senior Number 10 source said the EU tariffs on just four per cent of imports from outside the bloc was “a small price to pay” for continuing “frictionless” trade with other EU nations after Brexit.
One source close to a Eurosceptic Cabinet minister was doubtful about the plan but ready to listen to the Prime Minister’s case.
“It sounds like a sack of **** but let’s see what she says,” the source declared.
Friends of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, one of the Cabinet’s leading Brexiteers, say he was prepared to give the Prime Minister a full hearing at Chequers tomorrow. In another sign of a growing mood of compromise, Michael Gove was hopeful agreement would be reached at Chequers.
The Environment Secretary, a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign, said: “The Prime Minister has a clear plan which will ensure that Britain can leave the EU, be outside the single market and customs union, maintain as frictionless access as possible to the European market and also ensure that we take back control of our laws and our borders.”
Mrs May was quizzed about her plan by senior Eurosceptic Tories Owen Paterson and Sir Edward Leigh in the Commons yesterday. Sir Edward insisted the UK must get “full and unfettered control” over borders and laws while Mr Paterson insisted she must ensure that “we will categorically leave the single market, the customs union and the remit of the European Court of Justice”.
Former frontbencher Andrea Jenkyns urged Eurosceptic ministers to “show some steel” at tomorrow’s Chequers gathering.
“If we don’t deliver Brexit, if we’re half in and half out, it’s going to be catastrophic for the Conservative Party,” she said, adding that “history shows prime ministers keep their jobs if they keep their promises.”