LONDON — Theresa May has moved to head off a Tory rebellion on a key piece of Brexit legislation by accepting a series of amendments put forward by Brexiteer MPs designed to limit the scope of any withdrawal agreement with the European Union.
A spokesman for the prime minister said Monday the U.K. government would accept all four amendments to the customs bill — officially known as the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill — put forward by MPs in Jacob Rees-Moggs hardline European Research Group of backbench Euroskeptics, despite claims they undermined Mays latest proposal to the EU, agreed at Chequers barely a week ago.
Explaining the apparent capitulation, Mays spokesman said all four amendments were consistent with government policy. The four amendments were laid by Brexiteer MPs furious at the Chequers agreement reached by May last Friday.
“We have accepted these amendments because we believe them to be consistent with the approach that was set out and agreed at Chequers last week,” the spokesman said.
The amendments ensure the government cannot negotiate anything which would mean Northern Ireland becoming a separate customs area to the rest of the U.K. They would also stop the whole of the U.K. joining the EUs customs union without an act of parliament.
The biggest sticking point, however, was an amendment which appeared to undermine the central customs proposal of Mays Chequers deal, which would see the U.K. collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU.
Under the new amendment, now accepted by the government, this could only go ahead if the EU agreed to collect U.K. tariffs in return— something many experts said on Monday would be unacceptable in Brussels.
While the governments climb down Monday appears to head off the prospect of a rebellion in the House of Commons by Brexiteers, it raises the prospect of retaliation by Conservative MPs opposed to a hard Brexit and disappointed with what they see as a government climbdown, who may now push for an amendment binding the government to a full customs union with the EU.