Downing Street rules out U-turn on customs union pledge

Theresa May

Downing Street has insisted it will not back down on leaving the customs union, as pro-Brexit MPs signalled their resolve over the issue ahead of a key week for the future of the UK’s relations with Europe.

Peers voted last week in favour of an amendment in favour of staying in the customs union but No 10 rejected the idea of any backsliding. “The position remains very clear: we don’t think staying in a customs union is the right thing to do and it isn’t government policy to do so,” a Downing Street source said.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, reiterated the point on BBC1’s Breakfast on Monday. “Theresa May’s position on this has been very, very clear,” he said. “She has said that we are not going to be part of the customs union or any customs union. That position hasn’t changed and Downing Street have been clear about that this morning.”

Government hopes of avoiding a hard border in Ireland either through technological innovation or regulatory alignment have been set back after they were rejected during preliminary negotiations in Brussels.

That has led to speculation that May was preparing to concede on a customs union, which has been a red line since the prime minister’s conference speech in October 2016.

John Redwood, the strongly pro-leave Conservative backbencher, said on Monday he did not feel that No 10’s reiteration of the plan to leave any form of customs union had been necessary.

“I don’t think I needed reassuring,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “I’ve heard many times the prime minister say that it is our policy to leave the single market and customs union.

“More importantly, on a three-line whip,…

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