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Brexiteers’ Customs Bill amendments accepted by government

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Downing Street has accepted four amendments put forward by Brexiteer Tories to its Customs Bill.

One of the amendments could stop the UK from collecting tariffs for the EU, part of Theresa May’s Chequers plan which has upset some Tory MPs.

Another change could rule out the EU’s “backstop” on customs.

Theresa May’s spokesman said the changes were “consistent” with the proposals put forward by the government so far.

But in the Commons, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock said the prime minister had “capitulated” to Conservative Brexiteers and that the proposals agreed at the Chequers summit were now “dead in the water”.

Mrs May said this was “absolutely wrong”, adding: “I would not have gone through all the work that I did to ensure that we reached that agreement only to see it changed in some way through these bills.”

The government, which does not have a Commons majority, has been under pressure from MPs on both sides of the Brexit debate.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 and Parliament is considering a number of new laws needed to prepare for this and for life after the end of a proposed transition period, which is scheduled to last up to December 2020.

Last week’s White Paper setting out the UK’s preferred trading relationship with the EU – including a “common rule book” between the two sides – has angered many Tory MPs and they were set to show their displeasure by trying to amend the Taxation (Cross Border Trade) Bill, known as the Customs Bill.

As well as calling on the UK not to collect tariffs on goods bound for the EU unless there are reciprocal arrangements in place across the continent, the amendments rule out a border in the Irish sea, ensure the UK is out of the EU’s VAT regime, and require new legislation if the government wants to form a customs union with the EU.

MPs are due to vote on the legislation at its final parliamentary stage later – and it would only take a handful of Tory MPs to side with them for the bill to fall.

The amendments are backed by the European Research Group of MPs, whose chairman, Jacob Rees-Mogg, says they are designed to:

  • Enshrine in law the government’s commitment that Northern Ireland should be treated the same way as the rest of the country and not become a separate customs territory
  • Ensure reciprocity of customs collections, treating the UK and EU as equals
  • Enshrine in law the UK’s commitments that it will not be part of the EU’s harmonised VAT regime
  • Require any new customs union with the EU only come into force if passed by Parliament through primary, rather than, secondary legislation

Two of them had been backed by former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who quit his post last week, and Mr Davis could speak during the Commons debate, expected to start after 17:00 BST – which would be his first Parliamentary intervention since his departure a week ago.

But he said he still backed Theresa May, telling reporters as he left his London home that “my name’s not Geoffrey Howe” – a reference to the late Conservative politician whose barbed criticisms of Margaret Thatcher during his resignation speech in 1990 paved the way for her subsequent downfall.

Scott Mann became the latest Tory MP to stand down as a ministerial aide to the Treasury in protest at the PM’s plan, following Robert Courts who did the same on Sunday.

Former education secretary Justine Greening said the plan was the “worst of both worlds” as she became the most senior Tory politician to call for another referendum on the final deal to break the current “deadlock”.

Mr Clark, the business secretary, said he disagreed with his colleague and believed the Chequers plan was the best way forward.

Urging the EU to respond positively to the UK’s proposals, he said an agreement this autumn, if it was backed by Parliament, would bring “certainty for working people right across the country”.

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