May 15, 2018 / 3:56 PM / 10 months ago

Upping pressure on PM, Labour Party to call for Brexit customs papers

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s opposition Labour Party will increase the pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May’s government on Wednesday, by trying to force publication of documents on its two options for future customs arrangements with the European Union.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer speaks at Birmingham City University in Birmingham, Britain, March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Staples

May is struggling to overcome deep divisions in her government over the nature of Britain’s divorce with the EU and find agreement on a customs proposal to take to Brexit talks in Brussels, which have all but stalled in recent weeks.

Labour will hope to complicate her government’s talks on customs by trying to force a vote in parliament for the release of the documents May’s cabinet are considering to try to boil down two current proposals to a single option.

“The government’s Brexit strategy is in complete and utter deadlock,” said Labour’s Brexit policy chief Keir Starmer in a statement.

“Nearly two years on from the referendum, ministers have still yet to agree what our future customs and trading relationship with Europe will look like after Brexit.”

Instead, he said, ministers had wasted months on two “fatally flawed” options - a customs partnership under which Britain would collect tariffs on behalf of the EU, and a streamlined customs arrangement which would depend on technology to reduce any friction at the new border with the bloc.

Both have been dismissed by the EU.

After weeks of rows, May has divided most of her cabinet into two camps to work on improving the two proposals to try to make one more palatable to the warring factions and to negotiators in Brussels, who warn time is running out.

The lack of decision has also spurred calls for Britain to stay in the, or a, customs union with the bloc, a move its supporters say could prevent the return of a new, hard border with EU member Ireland that could fuel sectarian violence.

Starmer said he was confident there was a majority in parliament for Labour’s proposal for a comprehensive customs union with the EU - something that will be tested as legislation returns to the House of Commons later this year.

“If Theresa May is too weak to take that decision, then she should give Parliament the information to let it decide,” he added.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Stephen Addison

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