Will Theresa May’s ‘third way’ customs plan work?

EU dismisses prime minister's Brexit proposals as ‘unrealistic’

Theresa May at last week's European Council summit
(Image credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Theresa May will attempt to break the deadlock within her cabinet and the EU with a new ‘third way’ post-Brexit customs proposal.

Details of the new plan have not been revealed publicly but senior ministers will discuss it at Chequers, the prime minister's country retreat, on Friday, the BBC understands.

Both previous customs models, the so-called “customs partnership” and “max fac” solution reliant on new technologies to avoid border checks, have been rejected by various sections of the cabinet.

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The BBC says the government has now deemed both options “practically or politically undeliverable” and is working on a third option, believed to involve “alignment” with the EU in regulations covering trade in goods but a looser relationship for services.

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason says Downing Street hopes this compromise will give it a way out of its customs bind and go some way to finding a workable solution to the Irish border issue.

However, the signs that the government is starting from scratch – nearly one year after customs plans were first published and just four days before the Chequers showdown – “are certain to add to criticism of Brexit chaos” says The Independent.

According to the Daily Telegraph, “the word from Whitehall is that Mrs May could indeed be preparing to significantly ‘pink’ those red lines, proposing a new “customs arrangement” or "third way" that will see close alignment with EU rules on industrial goods and a commensurate degree of EU oversight”.

However, senior EU officials have already dismissed the prime minister's draft Brexit plan as unrealistic, saying the UK has no chance of changing the European Union’s founding principles.

The Guardian confirms that the government's long-awaited White Paper on a future trading relationship with the EU “is expected to propose the UK remaining indefinitely in a single market for goods after Brexit, to avoid the need for checks at the Irish border”.

But while the paper says the UK “is offering concessions on financial services, it wants restrictions on free movement of people – a long-standing no-go for the EU”.

While unacceptable to Brussels, the prime minister's plan also risks provoking hardline Brexiteers in her own party, who argue that effectively staying in the single market for goods will leave the UK’s hands tied when it comes to negotiating any future post-Brexit trade agreement.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he and other members of the 60-strong group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs he leads would reject a deal that did not amount to a clean break with the EU.

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