Friday 20 September 2019

May splits up her warring ministers as she aims to finally find solution to Border

British Prime Minister Theresa May Picture: Toby Melville/PA Wire
British Prime Minister Theresa May Picture: Toby Melville/PA Wire

Shona Murray Special Correspondent

UK Prime Minister Theresa May might finally face down her Tory detractors over the Northern Ireland Border.

Her Brexit war cabinet is meeting on Tuesday to discuss post-Brexit solutions to customs arrangements aimed at ensuring no physical borders are erected on the island of Ireland.

This time, Mrs May has split the cabinet into two teams and told them to thrash out their arguments for and against two specific proposals - a customs partnership, or technology-heavy "max-fac" (maximum facilitation).

"She's hoping there'll be agreement on customs union and the cleverest person among them, David Lidington (minister for the cabinet office), is on the max-fac team, and hopefully he'll tell them why it's so wrong," said a Tory rebel insider.

Also on that team, however, are Brexiteer Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Trade Secretary and Brexit idealogue Liam Fox.

The second team is comprised of Brexit Secretary David Davis, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Business Secretary Greg Clarke. It will examine Mrs May's preferred option of a customs partnership which would see the UK collect tariffs from goods coming in to the EU through Britain on behalf of Brussels. But Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson rejected this notion as "crazy" days ago, and Mrs May doesn't have the majority support on it.

"The only option is to get Defence Minister Gavin Williamson and Home Secretary Sajid Javid to change their minds and vote with the customs arrangement when the time comes. They'd have to both do it, otherwise the rebels between them would then find themselves in pole position in the next leadership battle. It's literally that volatile and ridiculous within the Conservative Party," said the source.

Meanwhile, Irish sources are pointing to the fact there are just seven weeks to go before the next agreed deadline, in which the EU has said there had to be "substantial progress" on the Border. "The British government is still entertaining the max-fac solution. It is a fantasy solution to trade only that ignores the peace on the Irish Border. It'll be a major achievement to get agreement among themselves, never mind us," said an Irish Brexit source.

Dublin believes if the UK was at least on the right track, then "we could give them the encouragement to develop their ideas further", even though the customs partnership idea is indeed complex.

Irish Independent

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