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Theresa May to reverse stance on UK leaving the customs union after Brexit

Yesterday, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said that the future of Northern Ireland was being decided in Brexit negotiations.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Theresa May could have to row back on her earlier statement that the UK would leave the customs union after Brexit.

UK media (including the Guardian, Independent and Times) are reporting that May could face a cabinet revolt over her comments affirming that they would leave the EU trade arrangement and wouldn’t join a similar one.

Although that stance has been consistent from most Brexiteers, that government position suffered a blow in the House of Lords on Wednesday, putting the government strategy in the spotlight.

On Friday the Daily Telegraph reported that the European Union has roundly rejected proposals from the British government for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

In one meeting attended by Oliver Robbins, May’s chief Brexit negotiator, government officials predicted that while some Cabinet Brexiteers such as the Environment Secretary Michael Gove and the Brexit Secretary David Davis would accept an about-turn, Johnson and Fox would likely quit.

Johnson has previously said that staying in a customs union would be “worse” than remaining in the EU.

Leaving the EU’s single market and customs union are cornerstones of Britain’s Brexit plan, designed to ensure an end to unlimited EU migration and give London the power to sign its own international trade deals.

But there are growing concerns about the impact of cutting ties with Britain’s largest trading partner, and the possible risk to peace in Northern Ireland by introducing an Irish border in the event of a ‘hard’ Brexit.

Yesterday, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said that the future of the North was “being decided in Brexit negotiations”.

“Reports show a complete lack of progress and a rising belief that there is no breakthrough likely in the coming months,” he said.

In fact, the situation today is that less than a year before the UK leaves the European Union there is no proposal on the table from anyone which can deliver both Brexit and a soft border in Ireland.

What was voted on

An amendment to a key piece of Brexit legislation, requiring ministers to explain the steps taken to negotiate Britain’s continued participation in a customs union with Brussels, was passed in the unelected chamber.

Lords voted by 348 to 225 in favour of the amendment, one of several defeats the chamber is expected to inflict on the government in the coming weeks as they debate the EU Withdrawal Bill.

The EU Withdrawal Bill debate will inform the biggest battle over Brexit, expected in October or November, when lawmakers vote on the final deal negotiated with Brussels.

Lawmakers will have to decide whether to back the government or reject the agreement — with the risk that Britain could crash out of the EU next year without any deal in place.

- with reporting from AFP

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