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Tories ‘must unite’ over Brexit trade deal, says Welsh leader

Andrew RT Davies

Image caption

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said the differing opinions from the Tories were “not helpful” to Brexit negotiations

Conservative MPs must not put “personal ambitions” before the good of the country in Brexit negotiations, the party’s leader in Wales has said.

The Tories in Westminster remain divided over what happens to customs arrangements when the UK leaves the European Union.

Andrew RT Davies said it was unhelpful that some in his party were giving a “running commentary in the media”.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said the UK will leave the EU’s customs union.

All members of the EU are members of the customs union, where they agree to apply the same level of taxes on goods imported from countries outside the EU.

However, the union does not allow members to strike their own trade deals – a key demand for the prime minister.

Two alternative options for arrangements post-Brexit are being considered by Downing Street instead of a customs union, but the cabinet is split and is yet to agree on the way forward.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has publically criticised the “customs partnership” – which would involve the UK collecting import tariffs on behalf of the EU – thought to be the prime minister’s preferred option, as “crazy”. Environment Secretary Michael Gove has also cast doubt on its viability.

Mr Davies, who supported Brexit, said it was time for the party to unite and it was not helpful for the negotiations for politicians to be “running to cameras offering their opinions”.

“These are very detailed negotiations and sensitive negotiations,” he said.

“Politicians need to think and pause and not put their personal ambition ahead of the country’s ambitions.

“Our ambition for the country is to have a global deal, a global looking Britain, delivered by a prime minister who has shown her steel, shown her strength,” he added.

Media captionWhat is the EU customs union?

What are the government’s options?

A “maximum facilitation” proposal – this would minimise customs checks rather than getting rid of them altogether, by using new technologies

A “customs partnership” – This would remove the need for new customs checks at the border. The UK would collect tariffs set by the EU customs union on goods coming into the UK

As the cabinet is yet to reach a decision on which of the two plans to adopt, it has had to agree to a “backstop” plan to keep the UK aligned with the EU’s customs union after 2020, in order to avoid a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But Mr Davies would not explicitly back either of the proposals, saying: “The end destination is taking back control of our sovereignty, our borders and our money”.

Following Labour’s decision to back the UK being in a permanent customs union with the EU, the prime minister is facing potential defeat in the House of Commons in the coming weeks if enough Conservative backbenchers join the opposition to vote against her plan to rule out a future customs union.

On a visit to Vale of Glamorgan farm, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: “We’re in a farcical situation now where the government is fighting over two options, neither of which are going to work, neither of which are acceptable to the EU, and neither would have the support of the majority in Parliament.

“We need certainty and the right approach is to stay in a customs union with the EU as the long-term objective – that would give the certainty that, I think, across the country people are looking for.”

The Welsh Labour Government is backing continued membership of a customs union as well as full access to the EU’s single market.

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