May warned not to sign up to Labour’s Brexit plans -‘Much more difficult to find partners’

Theresa May has been engaging in talks with the Labour Party since her Brexit withdrawal deal was rejected for the third time in Parliament in an attempt to break the deadlock. US Ambassador Woody Johnson warned the Prime Minister against considering signing the UK into a customs union as Jeremy Corbyn proposed to “entice” prospective partners to strike trade deals with Britain. Speaking to BBC News, Mr Johnson said: “From the way I read the tea leaves, that’s going to be more challenging to get control of your own trade policy if you’re still in the European Union as you are now.

“I think it’s going to be much more difficult, not only with the United States but with other countries around the world and the rest of the world is growing at a rapid clip so those relationships could be enticing.”

Mr Corbyn and senior members of his party have long suggested agreeing to a new customs union with the European Union and a close relationship with the single market could help resolve the Brexit impasse. Mrs May has however pledged to take the UK out of both institutions as part of her Brexit plan.

Discussing US President Donald Trump’s willingness to strike a new trade arrangement with London, Mr Johnson continued: “He’s approaching it from the standpoint of a special trade deal, bilateral trade deal and he says we’re going to have a robust, big and very generous trade deal.

“If he can get that, then I think he’ll be satisfied.”

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Labour has long insisted they would campaign to protect the current trade benefits the UK enjoys – including negotiating rights – as part of the customs union but would not force the country to remain in the European Union.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who has been in charge of securing Britain’s trading outside the EU since 2016, has claimed that a “customs union” would be the worst of both worlds and argued UK needed to look “beyond EU nations horizons” to ensure the best outcome after Brexit.

However, the future remains unclear after the Prime Minister agreed to further delay Brexit until October 31 despite wide opposition within her party.

Her decision sparked an attempt from irate backbenchers to change the internal rules of the Conservative Party to oust Mrs May – as current regulation forbid the party to hold a new vote of no confidence before a year has passed from the previous one, held in January. 

Members of the influential Tory backbench 1922 Committee held talks in Westminster on Wednesday but a majority was not reached to change party rules.

Mrs May saw off a bid to remove her by a margin of 200-117 in a vote of Tory MPs on December 12 2018.

Rules on whether to allow another leadership challenge as early as June will not be rewritten, but the 1922 Committee has called for Mrs May to provide a clear schedule for her departure if her Brexit deal continues to be rejected.

The chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, said: “The decision was first of all that we determined there should not be a rule change to remove the 12-month period of grace during which a second confidence vote cannot be held.

“We further determined that we should remind colleagues that it is always available to them to write to me as chairman of the 1922 Committee raising concerns or setting out their thoughts, including concerns about the leadership of the party, and that the strength of opinion would be communicated by me to the leader of the party should they decide to do so.

“Thirdly, we determined that following the Prime Minister’s decision a few weeks ago to set out a clear schedule for departure as leader of the party in the event of the Withdrawal Agreement being passed, we would seek similar clarity from her in other circumstances.”

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