May faces fresh rebellion over Brexit

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Theresa May was facing the threat of a fresh Commons Brexit rebellion after a marathon gathering of senior Cabinet members met to reach a united front on EU withdrawal.

The eight-hour meeting of the Brexit “war cabinet” at Chequers was called to plot a way forward after Tory tensions went public, but the Prime Minister faced a new challenge from pro-Europe backbenchers over keeping a customs union with the EU.

Former minister and leading Tory rebel Anna Soubry insisted she had cross-party support for a new amendment to the Government’s trade bill which would mandate the UK to form a customs union with Brussels after Brexit.

The move presents an increased danger to the PM because Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said the party now backed a customs union that would look “pretty much like” the current one after withdrawal.

Ms Soubry said she had widespread support for her move, tweeting: “It would be in the national interest if the Government & official Opposition also backed it.”

The Chequers “away day” saw the inner Cabinet committee discuss the impact of Brexit on the automotive sector, agri-foods, digital trade, as well as the overall future economic partnership the UK is seeking to reach with the EU.

Mrs May will set out the Brexit agenda in a major speech next week following a meeting of the full Cabinet.

Cabinet ministers thrashed out the Government’s position on Brexit at the PM’s country residence Chequers (Suzanne Plunkett/PA)

Ms Thornberry made it clear Labour wanted close ties to Brussels, telling LBC: “Technically, because we are leaving the European Union we can’t be in the customs union that we are in now.

“So, we leave and then we have to negotiate a new agreement. That we think is likely to be a customs union that will look pretty much like the current customs union.”

The senior Labour figure also said the UK could join forces with Brussels to negotiate trade deals with third countries after Brexit, rather than make its own global arrangements.

“If we were, during these negotiations, to say to the European Union, if you want to negotiate with third parties, with third countries, we could be connected to that agreement, and it would be to the advantage of Europe that you have a great big economy like Britain as part of your negotiations.”

The trade bill is not expected to be debated by MPs until after Easter.

The lengthy Chequers meeting included dinner which consisted of a starter of cream of sweetcorn soup, ham hock croquette and cured duck and egg yolk, followed by a main course of slow braised Guinness short rib of Dexter beef with onions, parsnip mash and root vegetables, with a dessert of lemon tart with raspberry sorbet and fresh raspberries.

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