Amendment to Brexit bill seeks to agree ‘customs arrangement’ with EU
Government could avoid defeat on customs policy in EU Withdrawal Bill vote but still faces rebellion on amendment to give Parliament a ‘meaningful vote’ on final deal
The government looks set to avoid defeat on its key Brexit customs policy after Conservative rebels agreed to a compromise deal with No 10.
Backbenchers last night agreed to back an amendment to the EU Withdrawal bill pledging the government to reach a “customs arrangement” with Brussels.
This would knock out a House of Lords amendment which called on ministers to enter into a new fully-fledged “customs union” with the EU.
However, the government could still be defeated in the Commons vote on the Brexit bill later today on a separate Lords amendment which aims to put Parliament in charge of the Brexit process if MPs vote to reject the final deal between the UK and EU.
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The government published “backstop” proposals last month to keep Britain temporarily in a customs union with the EU beyond the post-Brexit transition period if a withdrawal agreement cannot be agreed that avoids a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
At a meeting of the Tory backbench 1922 committee last night, May called for party unity and said any government defeats would be cheered by the EU.
She said: “We must think about the message Parliament will send to the European Union this week.
“I am trying to negotiate the best deal for Britain. I am confident I can get a deal that allows us to strike our own trade deals while having a border with the EU which is as frictionless as possible.
“But if the Lords amendments are allowed to stand, that negotiating position will be undermined.”
Brexit minister Steve Baker said after the meeting: “The government will look very carefully at what they've tabled and we will take a decision on whether or not we will support it in the usual way.
“Our policy is to leave the customs union so we can have our own independent trade policy, but it would be appropriate that we have an arrangement in place with the European Union.”
The government has rejected a separate amendment tabled by former attorney general Dominic Grieve, softening the Lords amendment on the “meaningful vote”.
Grieve’s compromise plan would have given ministers seven days to set out a fresh approach if MPs voted to reject the final deal, and then until 30 November to agree a new deal with the EU.
If there was still no deal by February 15 next year, the government would have had to hand over the reins to the House of Commons to set its Brexit strategy.
But the government's own amendment insists that ministers should have 28 days before having to come to the Commons with a back-up plan, and should then “make a statement setting out how Her Majesty’s government proposes to proceed”.
The rejection of Grieve's amendment came as justice minister Philip Lee dramatically resigned onstage at a think tank event over the government's stance on Brexit scrutiny.
"When MPs vote on the House of Lords’ amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill I will support the amendment which will empower Parliament to reject a bad deal and direct the government to re-enter discussions," he said.
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