Boris Johnson has put fresh pressure on the Prime Minister to abandon a proposed customs partnership with the EU by labelling the plan “totally untried” and “crazy”.
In significant criticism of the proposals, the Foreign Secretary said the scheme would not see the UK “taking back control” of its trade policy, laws, borders or money after Brexit.
The Government is still yet to decide between two options on future customs arrangements with the EU, which continue to split Theresa May’s Brexit “war Cabinet”.
The customs partnership scheme, believed to be favoured by the Prime Minister and backed by Chancellor Philip Hammond, would see the UK collect EU tariffs for goods coming into Britain on behalf of Brussels.
It is argued this would allow goods to pass freely between the EU and UK and prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
However, Brexiteers fear the plan would hinder the UK’s chances of being able to pursue an independent trade policy once outside the EU.
They favour a maximum facilitation, or “max fac”, scheme that would use technology and a “trusted trader” plan to reduce post-Brexit customs checks.
:: What are Theresa May’s customs options?
In a major public intervention over the internal Cabinet debate, Mr Johnson told the Daily Mail: “It’s totally untried and would make it very, very difficult to do free trade deals.
“If you have the new customs partnership, you have a crazy system whereby you end up collecting the tariffs on behalf of the EU at the UK frontier.
“If the EU decides to impose punitive tariffs on something the UK wants to bring in cheaply there’s nothing you can do.
“That’s not taking back control of your trade policy, it’s not taking back control of your laws, it’s not taking back control of your borders and it’s actually not taking back control of your money either, because tariffs would get paid centrally back to Brussels.”
The Cabinet is meeting on Tuesday morning but is not set to discuss Brexit.
The Prime Minister is also reported to have delayed further discussions of the two customs options at a meeting of her Brexit “war Cabinet” later this week, amid the divisions between ministers.
Along with Mr Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and Home Secretary Sajid Javid are said to have opposed plans for a customs partnership at last week’s meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee.
However, the Daily Mail reported Mr Williamson, who backed Remain at the EU referendum, could be persuaded to change his mind.
Currently, there are said to be six ministers set against a customs partnership on the Cabinet sub-committee, while five back the proposal.
Opponents of the customs partnership scheme are backed by the influential European Research Group of Conservative backbench MPs.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ERG chair, branded the proposal “just membership of the customs union and the single market by another name.”
On suggestions the plan may have been killed off due to the Prime Minister’s failure to win backing for it last week, Mr Rees-Mogg told the Daily Telegraph: “Time will tell. Every few weeks it seems the Treasury tries to get an effort to keep us in the customs union going again, usually in cahoots with the EU-funded CBI.
“And then it goes away again, because that’s not what’s in the manifesto. Then it comes back once again.
“The customs partnership seems to be in the longer grass, but the long grass sometimes gets mown.”
He also suggested Mr Johnson would be “much, much more aggressive” in Brexit negotiations than Mrs May, but added “banging the table doesn’t always get results”.
At the weekend, Business Secretary Greg Clark, a supporter of the customs partnership, warned thousands of jobs in the car industry could be lost if there was not “a customs agreement that has the minimum of frictions”.