Theresa May is set to give herself the power to create a Customs Union with the European Union (EU) nearly identical to the current one after Brexit.
The Prime Minister has previously promised the United Kingdom would leave the Customs Union and Single Market to respect the referendum result, and today’s development has raised concerns the UK could stay tied to many EU rules and regulations.
The option is included in a trade bill that will be debated in the Commons on Monday and Tuesday, The Times reports.
According to the paper, Clause 31 of the bill allows the government to establish “a customs union between the UK and the country or territory”.
This will give Mrs. May powers to implement any customs union with the EU, according to the House of Commons Library, and raises questions around whether Britain will be able to form trade deals with the rest of the world after Brexit – a central aspiration of Brexit supporters.
The move comes as Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond refuses to rule out continued membership of the Customs Union. Mr. Hammond and other Tory MPs have argued against Britain freeing its trade policy from the grips of EU officials.
The Labour Party, meanwhile, is thought to be close to adopting a policy of keeping the UK locked in the Customs Union and the Single Market.
Labour’s Paul Blomfield, a shadow Brexit minister, said: “Theresa May’s decision to sweep the Customs Union off the table before negotiations began was utterly reckless, so it’s positive that the Treasury is rethinking this approach.
“Labour has been clear that remaining in a UK-wide customs union with the EU is a viable option, subject to negotiations.”
Anti-Brexit Tory MP Nicky Morgan also praised the Chancellor on the issue: “It was widely thought that being in a long-term customs union with the EU had been ruled out by the government. But the chancellor’s letter confirms that this is not the case.”
Two days ago, a Tory think tank claiming the support of 120 Brexit-supporting MPs said they could block a final divorce deal unless the Prime Minister promised to leave the Customs Union and Single Market.