Brexit Purist Rees-Mogg Shoots Down Possible Customs Compromise

(Bloomberg) -- Jacob Rees-Mogg, the hardline Brexit backer who commands a group of Tory lawmakers, shot down a compromise that’s been touted as a possible solution in a Brexit fight consuming the U.K. government.

The Cabinet is split over what kind of customs relationship the U.K. should seek with the European Union after Brexit: Prime Minister Theresa May favors a close, complicated and unprecedented setup while Brexit supporters seek a much looser arrangement, with technology easing the flow of trade.

Hardliners in May’s Conservative party have openly rejected her proposal. Rees-Mogg called it “cretinous” and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson went on to dismiss it as “crazy.”

Amid the deadlock, a new idea has been floated: opt for the customs setup that the Brexiters want but because it won’t be ready in time, the U.K. should stay in the customs union for a few more years. The idea was floated on Twitter by Nick Boles, an ally of pro-Brexit Environment Minister Michael Gove, and also by May’s former aide Nick Timothy.

It was put to Rees-Mogg, whose group of 60 lawmakers in theory has the power to trigger a leadership challenge if they don’t like what May’s doing.

Could he accept an extension of customs union membership? “The customs union means we are effectively staying in the European Union,” he told the BBC Daily Politics show. “So no, of course not.” He said it would be a “dramatic failure of government policy.”

May’s spokesman, James Slack, was asked about the proposal earlier on Thursday and reiterated the official line: “We are leaving the customs union in December 2020.”

May says both options for the future customs setup -- the plan she backs and the one the Brexiters prefer -- are still being worked on. The EU, which had dismissed both proposals, is now asking questions about May’s preferred option in an attempt to move talks forward.

Rees-Mogg, however, reckons May’s plan was “running into the sand,” citing “further developments” since Sunday which he didn’t specify.

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