The Government could be heading for a crisis if the debate around customs arrangements is not resolved soon, says new CLA director of external affairs Tom Harlow.
The issue of whether the UK should remain in some form of customs union with the European Union is currently dominating the Westminster bubble.
With MPs due to vote on it in the coming weeks, it is an issue which will begin to dominate the media as well.
Without wanting to re-run the arguments of the referendum, this debate has largely become a proxy for whether an MP supports the Government’s vision for Brexit or even Brexit in general.
On one side, you have the Government and the vast majority of Conservative MPs arguing that we should not be in any form of customs union with the EU.
And on the other, you have the opposition parties, led by Labour, plus a small number of Conservative MPs seeking to keep the UK in some form of customs relationship with the EU.
In theory, this should be settled by now. The Government has been clear that it does not want to be in any form of customs union with the EU post-Brexit and it was included in the Conservative Manifesto last year.
However, without a majority, it is not as simple as that for the Prime Minister.
The very real problems facing the Government can be seen by the fact that it has been forced to delay a number of Bills where if accepted, the proposed amendments would keep the UK in some form of customs union with the EU.
However, the clock is ticking to March 2019 and one thing is for sure - they will need to come forward sooner or later, though losing these votes will throw the Government’s Brexit vision into chaos.
I am not going to predict what would happen if one of these votes was lost, but a sign of how seriously this is being taken by Downing Street is there are rumours of the Prime Minister declaring if any of these votes are lost she will resign, in the hope this will persuade Conservative MPs thinking of voting against the Government to back down.
The reality is no one knows if this ultimatum would work, or even if it is true.
To add further complication, all of this is taking place against a backdrop of the ongoing negotiations, which if they are to keep on schedule, are meant to produce an agreed framework position on future trade by October.
An agreement in December is more likely though. This would have to include what the plans are post-Brexit on the UK’s membership of a customs union. To put it bluntly, time is tight.