Theresa May's cunning plan on Brexit: ministerial divide and rule

Theresa May's cunning plan on Brexit: ministerial divide and rule

Theresa May has divided her cabinet into two groups to fight out their differences over Britain's post-Brexit customs arrangements, intensifying speculation that she is preparing to delay her decision on the issue.

Business Secretary Greg Clark is one who fears that relying on technological advances to speed up customs checks will never deliver the frictionless processes needed to keep the United Kingdom as an attractive place to do business.

One group will focus on the customs partnership plan, under which the United Kingdom would collect tariffs on behalf of the European Union - until now Downing Street's favourite option, but dismissed this week by the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, as "crazy" and unworkable.

Mr Johnson and Chancellor Philip Hammond - who are thought to have been at loggerheads over the customs issue - will not play a role in either of the two working groups.

Last time they met, pro-Brexit ministers criticized the prime minister's plans in an unusual show of defiance but May has insisted her proposal is still on the table and just needs some work.

There is concern that the United Kingdom would need to align itself closely to the EU's rules and regulations on products - the Single Market - in order to make this a viable option.

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"It is now clear there isn't a chance in hell that the UK government will have implemented any viable form of customs arrangement at UK/EU borders by December 2020".

The prime minister has said further work is needed to come up with a solution that will deliver on her promise of frictionless trade without the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

"She's hoping there'll be agreement on customs union and the cleverest person among them, David Lidington (minister for the cabinet office), is on the max-fac team, and hopefully he'll tell them why it's so wrong", said a Tory rebel insider. The prime minister now just wants the plan to "die with dignity", according one Brexiteer's briefing.

Labour is in favour of setting up a new customs union with the EU after Brexit, something it says is backed by the trade unions and industry body the CBI.

Theresa May's Brexit "war cabinet" is now at loggerheads over the Government's two customs options. On Thursday, Nick Timothy, May's former joint chief of staff, argued that this could happen, an idea immediately rejected by Downing Street.

A government official declined to give a reason for canceling the meeting and said reports that ministers would meet next Tuesday couldn't be confirmed.

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