POLITICS
17/05/2018 18:32 BST | Updated 17/05/2018 18:33 BST

Brexit Briefing: A New Customs Plan Within Two Weeks

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1) Stop Me If EU Think That You’ve Heard This One Before

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Another week, and another attempt at finding a new way to say the Government still hasn’t decided its post-Brexit customs plan.

Defra Secretary Michael Gove was on the BBC on Sunday saying the customs partnership had “flaws” and would reduce the UK to becoming the EU’s “tax collector”.

On Sky News less than an hour later Treasury Minister Mel Stride came out fighting on behalf of the plan, saying: “I think that the customs partnership has some huge advantages and the principal one is that in terms of the Northern Ireland/Irish situation, which is one of I think the key three things we’re trying to achieve here.”

Tory backbenchers were invited into Downing Street on Monday for a presentation on the customs partnership and ‘max fac’ options.

One MP present told me they were surprised that May did not try to push either model, and instead just presented the pros and cons of both options. “We could have got all that just from reading the newspapers,” they said.

Are we any closer to a decision? Meetings of the two cabinet sub-committees held this week seemed to deliver little breakthrough, and the date when a decision needs to be made by grows ever closer.

The Telegraph reported that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove “reluctantly” conceded in the meeting that membership of the customs union may have to be extended beyond 2020 to ensure all relevant technology has been developed.

This was denied by various Government sources, but EU officials in Brussels told the Guardian it was a sign of “more realistic” thinking from the UK.

It goes without saying that any extension would cause uproar with Brexiteers on Tory benches. 

2) The EU Are Changing Their Tune On The Customs Partnership

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One man who is no fan of the Brexiteer-backed ‘max fac’ plan is Irish PM Leo Varadkar.

Speaking to Ireland’s Parliament on Wednesday, he said: “I believe the customs partnership is closer to being made workable than the maximum-facilitation proposal or max-fac which ... I had thought was some form of make-up or deodorant.

“I have certainly not seen to date any detail that indicates that such a solution would be as functional as make-up or a deodorant.

“We are not drawing up any plan for a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, full stop. There is not going to be one.”

Brussels had previously ruled out the customs partnership model, but as Varadkar’s comments show, it is now becoming more appealing to the EU when compared to max fac.

May and Varadker had some facetime on Thursday at the EU Western Balkans summit in Sofia, Bulgaria. According to Tony Connelly, Europe Editor of RTE, the pair met for 45 minutes, and Varadker said afterwards: “The PM gave me an insight into some new thinking the UK government as in relation to customs. Obviously we’ll see how that develops. We haven’t been able to get any detail on that yet but certainly any move on customs that brings the UK closer to the EU is to be welcomed.”

Connelly tweeted that May’s new thinking was presented “verbally and conceptually”, according to the Irish PM, meaning Dublin could not respond until it was presented as a formal written proposal in the Brexit negotiations.

It was also reported that May would put forward a new customs proposal within two weeks.

3) Let’s Hope David Davis Does A Better Job Than On Those ‘Impact Assessments’

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Perhaps some clarity on what happens next will be provided by David Davis, who told Cabinet on Tuesday he would be producing a detailed document on its plans for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

According to Downing Street, Davis said the white paper will “communicate our ambition for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, in the context of our vision for the UK’s future role in the world.”

He added: “It is an opportunity to set out clearly to both a domestic and an EU audience the reasoning behind our approach, including where we think it is clearly in the EU’s interests as well as our own.”

The white paper is due to be released before the next EU summit, scheduled for June 28.

4) You Get The Sense He’s Been Waiting 30 Years For This Moment

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The Tories may be battling over the customs union, but Labour is struggling to keep the lid on its own simmering tensions.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer appeared on Marr at the weekend, and was challenged why Labour, which backs a customs union with the EU, doesn’t go the whole hog and oppose Brexit.

A crunch moment for Labour MPs will come when the Commons votes on a Lords amendment to effectively keep the UK in the European Economic Area – which would see Britain stay in the Single Market.

Jeremy Corbyn told a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday he didn’t favour such a move as it would leave the UK as a “rule taker.”

In an interview with our Commons People podcast, former Labour leader Neil Kinnock says Labour MPs should be prepared to defy the party leadership on the issue, and “vote for the country.”

Full story is here, and you can sign up for the podcast here.

Don’t Get Angry, Get Blogging…

At HuffPost we love a good blog, and here are the finest Brexit-penned entries from this week. Have a read, and if any of them provoke an urge in you to speak your brain, send a blog to ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com and you could find yourself in this very newsletter.

Ed Balls and Peter Sands on why Britain can’t bank on a free trade deal with America...and Greg Hands blogs in response on why trade with the US won’t come at the expense of trading with the EU

David Warren asks why the Single Market has become a “protectionist cartel” from which we must escape

Tessa Milligan on why a no deal Brexit would be a ‘bum deal’ for Britons