Michael Gove has literally ripped up Theresa May’s plan for a new customs partnership with the EU. As I say in The Sun today, to the surprise of the officials present, Gove tore the document in two at a meeting on Wednesday night.
After the Brexit inner Cabinet couldn’t reach a consensus on what customs relationship to have with the EU after Brexit, it was split into working groups to look at the two options: the new customs partnership and a streamlined customs arrangement, dubbed MaxFac. Gove was put on the one looking at the new customs partnership—which is Theresa May’s preferred model. It would see the UK collecting tariffs on the EU’s behalf even after Brexit. All imports from the rest of the world charged the EU tariff initially, if the UK charged a lower tariff than the EU for the goods and they stayed in the UK, the company would then receive a refund.
Nearly all Brexiteers, including Gove, see this model as bureaucratic and unworkable and fear it will make Britain a far less attractive country to do a trade deal with. Gove and Liam Fox, the two Brexiteers on the three-man working group, had made these points repeatedly in the six weeks of meetings they have had on the subject.
But on Wednesday night, when they were presented with the civil service summary of their discussions, they found that these points had been downplayed to almost nothing. Instead, the document implied that the group thought that the new customs partnership was workable.
Gove was livid about this and ripped up the document to show that he wasn’t prepared to accept this as a summary of their discussions.
This flash of anger shows that Downing Street would be making a very big mistake if it assumed that Gove will accept—and sell to his fellow Brexiteers—any deal with the EU no matter how flawed it is and how much it tied the UK’s hands for the future.
Customs will be one of the biggest bones of contention at the Chequers. I understand that there is talk that the model favoured by Brexiteers, MaxFax, might be altered to include tariff alignment with the EU.
But if that’s the case, then Britain won’t be able to have a proper, independent trade policy. One of the Brexiteers close to the discussions warns that this is the ‘breaking point of what people are prepared to accept’.