Theresa May is “not considering” Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to remain in a customs union with the EU in order to secure cross-party support for a Brexit deal, Downing Street has said.
Number 10 said the prime minister has been “absolutely clear” that the government is opposed to such an idea, stressing “we must have an independent trade policy after Brexit”.
A spokesman for Mrs May also said the PM would make a statement in parliament on Tuesday to update MPs on the latest Brexit developments.
It comes after Mrs May accepted an offer of further talks with Mr Corbyn, saying their teams should meet “as soon as possible” and offering concessions in a number of areas.
The apparently conciliatory tone of the PM’s letter sparked concerns from some Brexiteer MPs that Mrs May might have been prepared to soften her position in order to get a deal through parliament.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the European Research Group of eurosceptic Tory MPs, told The Daily Telegraph: “As the 2017 Conservative manifesto promised to leave the customs union, it would be more consistent for the prime minister simply to rule one out.”
The danger for the PM was illustrated when Chief Treasury Secretary Liz Truss refused to rule out resigning if Mrs May backed a customs union, telling Sky News: “I absolutely do not think that should be our policy.”
The EU’s customs union sees goods pass between member states without checks or duties, with a common tariff for non-EU goods.
Mr Corbyn wants Britain to maintain a customs union with the bloc in a bid to keep trade as frictionless as possible and avoid any potential disruption to businesses.
But Mrs May is committed to leaving the arrangement and allowing Britain to strike its own free trade deals with countries around the world.
And the PM argues that the political declaration – the part of her Brexit deal that sets out what the future UK-EU relationship will look like – provides many of the benefits of Mr Corbyn’s customs union proposal.
At the start of another busy week in the Brexit process, Mrs May spokesman was quizzed about what happens next at a daily Westminster briefing with journalists.
The PM was originally expected to deliver her statement on Wednesday ahead of a debate in the Commons on Thursday, but the spokesman said holding it a day earlier would “give parliament a couple of days to digest the content”.
Labour, meanwhile, will try to use a vote on Thursday to try and force Mrs May to bring her deal back to the Commons for a vote by 26 February.
The opposition has accused the PM of “running down the clock” to Britain’s scheduled departure date of 29 March.
However, the government is expected to offer MPs another chance to vote on non-binding amendments on 27 February.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox was in Switzerland on Monday to sign a new trade deal with the country.
He criticised Labour’s customs union proposals, saying they were “not workable”.
“The idea that you can have a customs union with the EU and at the same time, as an outside country, have an effect on EU trade policy is to not understand the EU treaties,” Dr Fox said.
“It is very clear from the European Union that non-EU members do not have a say in EU trade policy so to pretend that you could do so is a dangerous delusion.”
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said trying do a deal with Labour would be a mistake.
He said: “I don’t think that there is any mileage for the prime minister or the government in trying to do a deal with Labour because they will just try to trap Theresa May.”
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will head to Brussels later for talks with EU negotiator Michel Barnier.
Mrs May is trying to win concession from Brussels on the controversial backstop, the insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border returning to the island of Ireland.