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Close call again for May as she foils rebels on customs union

18 July, 2018, 15:43 | Author: Lawrence Cooper
  • The Cabinet will this week sign off on a dramatic plan to remove all of Ireland’s oil reserves from the UK as the Government ramps up its contingency plans for Brexit.. Stock image

The Prime Minister's strategy for leaving the European Union faces fresh turmoil if MPs vote to pass a series of amendments to Brexit legislation passing through parliament.

The amendment would have forced the Government to adopt a negotiating objective of seeking to keep the United Kingdom in "a customs union" with the EU after Brexit, unless it has managed to negotiate a "frictionless free trade area for goods" by next January.

Government whips overcame the rebellion by a dozen back-bench Tory lawmakers - reportedly issuing last-ditch threats it would prompt a no-confidence vote in the prime minister - and scraped through by six votes, winning by 307 to 301.

In the preceding vote, the government had fallen to only its second defeat on Brexit in the Commons, as MPs voted by 305 to 301 for continued United Kingdom involvement in the EU's regulatory system for medicines.

Labor MP, Chuka Umunna criticized four Brexit-supporting Labor MPs who voted in the final key vote.

"Theresa May is in a more hard position than I was", he told ITV News, "facing more-committed and hard-line opponents - and more of them - than I had".

May has ruled out a customs union because membership would prevent Britain from striking free-trade deals with nations outside Europe, and her victory Tuesday will be a big relief for her.

But Mrs May suffered a setback when another rebel amendment, seeking to keep the United Kingdom in the European Medicines Agency, was passed by the Commons.

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She said Labour was in an "even greater mess" than the Conservatives, with the 'old Trotskyists in charge.

She now faces a potentially hard session of Prime Minister's Questions and an appearance in front of the Liaison Committee of senior MPs on Wednesday.

Markets and many investors want to see Britain retain close trade ties with the EU, possibly through a customs union, after Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.

Her government on Tuesday avoided a humiliating defeat in Parliament when it narrowly won another vote over her Brexit customs bill - but only after reluctantly accepting amendments put forward by Brexit hardliners.

May has vowed to stick to her plan to negotiate the closest possible trade ties with the European Union, saying her strategy is the only one that can meet the government's aims for Brexit, the biggest shift in Britain's foreign and trade policy for decades. They included defence minister Guto Bebb, who quit his post in order to rebel.

The commission said the Vote Leave group, backed by senior politicians who included former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, failed to declare 675,000 pounds ($1,304,476 NZD) it spent with Canadian data firm Aggregate IQ.

The Father of the House said: "The moment that we have an important Bill like yesterday and today, the government is anxious that the House of Commons should have no opportunity to talk about it, limited opportunities to vote about it and it should be got out of the way as quickly as possible and I really do think the convention needs to be challenged".

The prospect of continued drama in parliament and doubts over the future of May's "white paper" Brexit plan - which is itself only a starting point for talks with the European Union - is testing the patience of businesses that depend on cross-border trade.


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