Theresa May’s post-Brexit customs plan was dealt another blow today as leading Cabinet minister Michael Gove claims it has “flaws”.
Speaking less than a week after fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson called the proposal “crazy”, the Environment Secretary claimed the policy would leave the UK acting as the EU’s “tax collector”.
The criticism came after the Prime Minister issued a “trust me” plea to voters, as she repeated her aims of taking back control of the UK’s borders, money and laws after Brexit.
But it is her preferred customs plan which is under attack from many Brexit-backing Tories – a proposal which would see the UK levy the same tariff on goods as the EU, but then allow businesses to claim back the difference if Britain has lower rates.
It is one of two post-Brexit trade options under consideration by the Cabinet, with the other – dubbed ‘maximum facilitation’, or ‘max fac’ – seeing the UK relying on technology to streamline customs processes with the EU.
Both options are being scrutinised by two sub-Cabinet groups, with Gove one of those analysing the customs partnership model.
When asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show if he agreed with Johnson that the model is “crazy”, Gove replied: “With the new customs partnership – Boris pointed out that because it’s novel, because no model like this exists, there have to be significant questions marks over the deliverability of it on time.
“More than that – what the customs partnership requires the British government to do is in effect to act as the tax collector and very possibly the effective deliverer of regulation for the European Union.”
When pushed on if he shared Johnson’s assessment, Gove added: “It’s my view that the new customs partnership has flaws and they need to be tested.”
Gove, one of the leading Leave campaigners ahead of the 2016 referendum, said the result of that vote showed the British people want the UK to be free from the EU customs union.
He insisted the Government needed to “crack on” with finding a solution as “in delay there lies no plenty, as Shakespeare once said.”
When asked about the possibility of extending the post-Brexit transition period beyond December 2020, Gove said bluntly: “I don’t believe in an extension.”
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Speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday after the Gove interview had finished, former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan raised concerns over the customs partnership plan, saying it was “complex” and more information about how it would operate is needed.
The Tory MP, who is also chair of the Treasury Select Committee, also criticised the other proposal being put forward, and said: “It seems to me that’s what’s called the maximum facilitation – which seems to rely on future technology not yet invented – would absolutely basically be a deal in name only because it doesn’t talk about an enduring relationship with the EU, which I think is what the Prime Minister said she wanted to create, and it causes enormous problems on the island of Ireland.
“And the Northern Ireland executive themselves said that the technology was not yet there so you know that’s a way off. ”