Rudd Exposes Brexit Rifts in Cabinet Over Thorny Customs Union

(Bloomberg) -- Home Secretary Amber Rudd revealed how tensions are still raging within the cabinet over the thorny issue of Britain’s post-Brexit trade ties, as she made some unguarded comments to reporters on Thursday.

At a lunch with parliamentary reporters Rudd said she wouldn’t be drawn on whether the U.K. will leave the customs union or not -- a sensitive issue that will define what Brexit means for businesses and citizens.

"We still have a few discussions to be had in a really positive, consensual, easy way amongst some of my cabinet colleagues in order to arrive at a final position," she told reporters at lunch, her tone heavy with irony.

Afterward, she quickly tweeted to clarify that "of course" she supports Prime Minister Theresa May’s stated aim of leaving the trading regime. But she made no effort to retract the comments about her cabinet colleagues, just a day after the Brexit inner cabinet met to discuss the way forward.

May has repeatedly said the U.K. will leave the EU’s trading regime and Brexit-backing Conservatives would probably try to topple her if she reneges. But Parliament might force May into a U-turn as soon as next month, so Rudd’s comments come at a particularly sensitive time.

The customs union goes to the heart of what Brexit will look like. Businesses, the opposition Labour party, and some Conservative lawmakers want to stay in as it will keep some of the heaviest burdens off cross-border trade. But Brexiters want to break free so that the U.K. can forge its own independent trade policy and keep to campaign pledges of striking new trade deals as a new "global Britain."

Rudd, who campaigned to remain in the EU, is already viewed with suspicion by Brexit supporters, and some of them were quick to pounce on her misstep. Her sarcastic tone when talking about Cabinet colleagues might also land her in hot water just as she is fighting for her career over a scandal involving the treatment of immigrants.

“At the press gallery lunch today, could not understand why Amber Rudd did not support government policy to leave the Customs Union,” Peter Bone, a pro-Brexit backbench Conservative said on Twitter. “We cannot have Home Sec not supporting this key plank of Brexit!”

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