Remainer Tory MP Dominic Grieve has said proposals for the UK to remain in a customs union after Brexit made the whole process “questionable”.
The former attorney general told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “At the end of the day it highlights why the entire enterprise is questionable, because in fact what we are likely to end up with is leaving the EU but staying in a relationship of sufficient dependency on it without influence as to call into question the whole project.”
Grieve rejected the argument that MPs should back whatever deal Theresa May secures in order to avoid a disorderly exit from the EU, repeating his call for any deal to be put to a second referendum.
“I don’t accept that rejecting the deal would necessarily mean it is no deal at all,” he said.
“Of course it would provoke a political crisis… but there comes a point where you have to look to the long term.
“If the long term is that we are simply going to be continuing this argument long after we’ve left the EU on March 29 next year as to what our future relationship with it is going to be, then, quite frankly, it would be better to have that argument now and let the public decide what they want and if they are content with the arrangements the government has come up with.”
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker, a leading member of the European Research Group of hardline Tory MPs, said that EU withdrawal must mean departure from the customs union “in a timely way”.
Baker said: “If we are going to regulate our own economy, if we are going to have our own independent trade policy, if we are going to be a normal independent country – which is what I understood the referendum result to have decided – then we need to be out of the customs union and we need to get out of the customs union in a timely way.”
And EU deputy chief Brexit negotiator Sabine Weyand backed Ireland when it warned that a time-limited backstop on the Irish border would never be acceptable.
The Irish position remains consistent and v clear that a ‘time-limited backstop’ or a backstop that could be ended by UK unilaterally would never be agreed to by IRE or EU. These ideas are not backstops at all + don’t deliver on previous UK commitments #Brexit pic.twitter.com/y7AQ8V1jMo
— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) November 5, 2018
Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney said: “The Irish position remains consistent and v clear? that a ‘time-limited backstop’ or a backstop that could be ended by UK unilaterally would never be agreed to by IRE or EU.
“These ideas are not backstops at all + don’t deliver on previous UK commitments.”
Ms Weyand linked to the comments on Twitter, adding: “Still necessary to repeat this, it seems.”
Brexit will be on the agenda for the regular meeting of Cabinet tomorrow.
“We continue to make good progress in the negotiations but there is work still to do,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.
Asked about the government’s position on the Irish backstop, the spokesman said: “The position that we have set out is we don’t want the backstop to be in place indefinitely and we will be looking to a mechanism to achieve that.”
Pressed on Boris Johnson’s description of the mooted exit plan as an “absolute stinker”, the spokesman said: “There isn’t anything new in that article for me to respond to.”