By Joe Harker
The Times reports that Theresa May has agreed a "secret" Brexit deal that involves keeping the UK in the customs union, handily solving the Irish border issue as people and goods will be able to move across without barriers but causing more issues in the House of Commons as many Tory MPs are Eurosceptic and have no desire to stay in the customs union. In an attempt to keep the Hard Brexiteers in line the deal May has reportedly struck includes legislation for trade deals like the one Canada has.
The customs union membership will reportedly not be indefinite, with an "exit clause" included and the ability to conduct checks on goods in factories and shops rather than on the border. Being part of a customs union is already a hard pill for Hard Brexiteers to swallow, May is hoping the prospect of eventually leaving it will be a spoonful of sugar. This would also remove the need for a backstop, though leaving the customs union could cause problems further down the line.
Being in a customs union that you expect to leave at some point doesn't solve the issue of a hard border in Ireland, merely postpone it. With this supposed deal the UK would still hit a point where they left the customs union and a border was required, this just gets the UK past the end date of March 29 and out of the EU.
The prime minister is planning on selling this deal to her rebellious MPs by arguing that if they vote against it in the House of Commons they will be directly responsible for plunging the UK into a no deal Brexit. Leaving without a deal is widely regarded as a disastrous option and the prime minister wants there to be no alternative but the deal she makes.
It is also hoped that some Labour MPs would back her deal. Labour back leaving the EU but want to stay in the customs union and the prime minister will hope temporary membership after Brexit is enough of an olive branch to win them over.
A spokesperson for the prime minister said reports of a secret Brexit deal were "speculation". They insisted that the deal with the EU was 95 per cent done and spoke of "good progress" on the future relationship between the UK and EU.
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage warned the prime minister that a Brexit deal where the UK is still in a customs union would not go down well with Eurosceptics. He argues that the UK will have to pay more to the EU in financial contributions and that it would be unsuitable for supporters of Hard Brexit.
Eurosceptic MP Jacob Rees-Mogg also voiced his opposition to a Brexit deal where the UK stayed in a customs union. He said it would be a "major breach of faith" if the prime minister offered the House of Commons a deal that included customs union membership. The secret deal that was supposed to win over Eurosceptics and Remain supporters may end up being the worst kind of compromise, one where nobody is happy.
Former trade minister Greg Hands voted Remain in the referendum but argues that leaving the EU and staying in the customs union would be "dire for British trade". He explains that the UK would be bound by EU rules with no ability to influence them, a situation that would not please Remainers or Leavers and hamper British trade policy. The former group still want to be in the EU and part of policy making while most of the latter group will see staying in a customs union as not really being Brexit.
If the prime minister really has struck a secret deal on these terms then her best case scenario is for Eurosceptics in her own party and some Labour MPs to be won over, allowing her to get the deal through the House of Commons. However, temporary membership of the customs union only kicks the Irish border issue further down the curb and risks angering Tory MPs who will see it as a betrayal of Brexit.
Can Theresa May use the dangling threat of no deal to scare the House of Commons into line, or will she be seen as threatening to jeopardise the UK to get a Brexit deal nobody likes?