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'I would not be as confident as you': May and Brexiteer MP 'in row over who would win a border poll'

The Prime Minister met with Conservative MPs yesterday to discuss future customs arrangements.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Theresa May confronted Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg at a party meeting designed to break the deadlock over what form the UK’s future customs arrangements with the EU might take, the Times of London reported this morning.

With less than 11 months to go until Britain officially quits the union, London has yet to set out a detailed plan for trade.

Cabinet ministers are openly arguing about the government’s two proposed options on trade, which are intended to reduce the need for customs checks, particularly on the Northern Ireland border.

After a meeting two weeks ago broke up without agreement, May divided her top ministers into two groups to work on the proposals, forcing ministers to assess the merits of each idea.

Their findings will be discussed at a ministerial Brexit meeting today – but the Prime Minister met privately with Conservative MPs yesterday to discuss the government’s proposals.

The Times reports that the confrontation between May and Rees-Mogg, a hardline Brexiteer, developed after the backbencher said the UK should keep an open border with the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.

May, it’s reported, suggested that Ireland would be obliged to construct border infrastructure by EU rules and warned against any move that might anger moderate nationalists.

Rees-Mogg said that he believed the UK would win any future border poll in Northern Ireland (citing the result of the Scottish independence referendum).

May responded, according to the paper:

I would not be as confident as you. That’s not a risk I’m prepared to take. We cannot be confident on the politics of that situation, on how it plays out.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph last night, Rees-Mogg suggested May “ought not to take Brussels too seriously about the Irish question” when seeking a customs deal.

pjimage (1) Jacob Rees-Mogg and Theresa May Source: PA Images

Hardline pro-Brexit MPs have been vocal in refusing to compromise their demands for a clean break with Brussels so as to “take back control” of Britain’s laws and borders.

They have criticised May’s preferred customs plan, in which Britain would effectively collect tariffs on behalf of the EU – a plan Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has blasted as “crazy”.

They favour the “maximum facilitation” proposal, which would use technology to ease cross-border trade, while allowing Britain to set its own customs rules.

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney reiterated the Irish government’s position on post-Brexit arrangements at the weekend. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show he rejected any proposals that technology be used at the border with Northern Ireland and said that a “political solution” should be found on the issue.

He also said that the Irish government had proven its own flexibility in Brexit negotiations, and that he expected Theresa May’s government to stick to what has been agreed to so far.

Coveney said it would be “helpful” if the British government had some consensus around the concept of the border problem.

“Let’s not forget what’s been agreed in these negotiations to date,” he said.

Last December, there was a clear agreement that the British Prime Minister signed up to that there would be no border infrastructure of any kind on the island of Ireland and no related checks or controls.

That means we’re not talking about cameras and scanning systems and drones here. It means we’re talking about a political solution that allows for regulatory alignment in a way that prevents a need for border infrastructure.

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Coveney said that the British government had made a clear commitment and that the Irish government now expected that promise to be kept.

The Tory eurosceptics wield significant influence in Downing Street, but when it comes to a vote in parliament commentators put their numbers at no more than 100 MPs – less than one third of the Conservative party.

Both the Houses of Commons and Lords will have to sign off on any final Brexit deal agreed with Brussels.

Although the findings of May’s two ministerial teams will be discussed today, a final decision is not expected this week.

With reporting from - © AFP, 2018

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Daragh Brophy

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