The UK must not agree to a Brexit deal which leaves it “trapped in a customs arrangement” with the EU, Andrea Leadsom has insisted.
The leader of the Commons said she was “sticking in the government” to ensure the UK cannot be “held against its will” in a customs arrangement if a Brexit backstop deal is agreed.
With the need to avoid a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland a major sticking point for Theresa May, the UK is likely to agree to a backstop while it negotiates its future relationship with the EU.
This could see the whole of the UK effectively remain within the EU’s customs union. However, fears have emerged that the country could be stuck inside this arrangement for years.
“It must be capable for the United Kingdom to decide to leave that customs arrangement and it cannot be something that the European Union can then hold us to,” Leadsom told BBC Radio 5 Live on Sunday.
Such a scenario would “fail to fulfil the will of the people”, she said, adding: “I very much doubt that we would get it through Parliament”.
However, Cabinet minister Damian Hinds appeared to throw cold water on the idea that the UK could have total control over when it left a customs arrangement, saying a unilateral exit was “very, very unlikely”.
“If you have too hard a line about saying, ‘well we must just have a totally unilateral exit, or there’s an absolutely fixed, hard end date’, that is… very, very unlikely that is going to be negotiable with the other side,” the education secretary told BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
“On the other hand, people here rightly want comfort and they should be able to have comfort and confidence that it isn’t an open-ended thing.”
Telling Marr that the final deal is unlikely to be something “everybody is going to think is absolutely perfect”, he added: “But that’s the nature of these things. There are so trade-offs.”
The divide between two of May’s ministers comes just two days after Jo Johnson resigned as transport minister in protest of the withdrawal agreement being drawn up between the EU and the UK, with Boris’ younger brother instead pushing for a second referendum.