Theresa May needs a customs agreement with EU that will harm as little as possible trade with bloc, destination of half of British exports, and that will enable it to fulfil its commitment to avoid a physical frontier between Republic of Ireland and Ireland from North. Pressured by europhobe sector, prime Minister explicitly ruled out most obvious option, continuing in customs union with EU, as it would prevent United Kingdom from signing trade agreements with third countries. It has also ruled out to remain in "a" customs union, a diffuse option that advocates Labour opposition.
The exercise of linguistic creativity proposed by May team to try to get out of mess was concept of "Customs association." The idea is that government would apply European taxes to imports and n find an (indefinite) way to return m for goods whose final destination was United Kingdom. A proposal that Boris Johnson, foreign minister and champion of hard Brexit, soon described as "madness."
The counter-proposal of hard sector is anor contortion of language, concept of "maximum facilitation", which would minimize border friction thanks to a new (and also indefinite) technology. With relief in Ministry of Interior, entering Sajid Javid to replace resigned and openly pro-European Amber Rudd, balance in government subcommittee of Brexit has leaned towards Brexit hard, blocking any progress in last Weeks.
May tried this Friday to unlock issue with a formula reminiscent of methods of resolving school disputes. It has divided its cabinet into two working groups, and each of m will have to draw up a report on one of two options for customs settlement, and present it at a meeting convened next Tuesday. Those in charge of defending one and or option will be mainly those ministers who oppose m. Boris Johnson and minister of Economy, Philip Hammond, considered most extreme and divisive figures on both sides of debate, are left out of groups.
What is striking about all this is that Brussels has already said that two options are unviable. They depend on unproven technology and, on or hand, would hardly solve border problem in Ireland. In any case, no one expects substantial changes of opinion among members of government from here to Tuesday.
But more than critics in his government, May's enemy is time: The United Kingdom will be outside EU on 29 March, pursuant to Article 50 of Treaty of Lisbon. That is why, respecting deadlines for approval by European Parliament, it will need to reach an agreement with Brussels this fall. The inaction of government has led to conjecture on a possible extension of transitional period, which provides for a temporary extension of status quo to avoid damage of a jump to void.
Meanwhile, legislative jam in British Parliament continues. The Lords have already defeated government up to 14 times in process of large EU exit law, which has not yet returned to Commons for elected deputies to vote on amendments. And Conservatives have decided to postpone until autumn processing of two important laws of Brexit on trade and customs, frozen for months, in fear that may may be defeated. Postponed sensitive matter, Parliament's agenda for next week includes debates on municipal taxes and plastic coffee mugs.