Trade

Andrea Leadsom: UK could seek ‘customs arrangements’ for some sectors

LONDON — Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU could include “some customs arrangements in certain sectors” where there is a “very tight supply chain,” Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom said Tuesday.

The leading Brexiteer, who stood against Theresa May in the race to lead the Conservative Party after David Cameron resigned following the 2016 referendum, told POLITICO that the government could seek closer alignment to the EU in some areas.

“We have been very clear that we will be coming out of the customs union and the single market because of course if we are in the customs union, we can’t write free-trade agreements with the rest of the world,” she said. “That is not to say that we won’t be seeking a very good free trade deal which could include some customs arrangements in certain sectors, like for example, where there is a very tight supply chain where you might want to keep the same rules and regulations in order for that supply chain to work well.”

Earlier this month, Downing Street ruled out staying in any kind of customs union when the U.K. has left the bloc.

Leadsom also played down a report in the Times that the U.K. government was delaying the Commons votes on the customs union because it feared defeat.

Leadsom, who is overseeing the passage of Brexit legislation through the House of Commons, attends Cabinet but was not part of the sub-committee that met at the prime minister’s country residence Chequers last week to thrash out the U.K.’s position on its future relationship with the European Union.

Leadsom will attend the Cabinet meeting on Thursday where MPs will approve May’s latest speech, which will be delivered at an undisclosed location on Friday.

The speech is a crucial moment for the prime minister as she faces a growing rebellion from Conservative backbenchers who want to keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU, though not necessarily the customs union that the U.K. is part of as a member of the bloc. She must also placate hard Brexiteers who see any customs union as incompatible with their aim to strike independent free-trade deals outside the European Union.

May was put under further pressure when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday said his party supported keeping the U.K. in a customs union after Brexit. Eight Conservatives have so far signed an amendment to the Trade Bill, which calls on the government to negotiate a customs union with the EU. With a working majority of just 13, the prime minister risks defeat in parliament if she is unable to placate Tory rebels.

In a speech on Tuesday, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said entering a customs union with the EU after Brexit would be “a betrayal of the voters in the referendum” as he insisted Britain must have a “fully independent trade policy.”

But he called for a “tariff-free environment” for trade with the EU and the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Leadsom also played down a report in the Times that the U.K. government was delaying the Commons votes on the customs union because it feared defeat.

She said there was a “misunderstanding about how long legislation takes” and the time between second reading, committee and report stages was “entirely variable.”

“There is no delay, this legislation is going through exactly as it must,” she said.

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