London (April 19, 2018): The House of Lords inflicted an embarrassing defeat on Theresa May’s government on Wednesday, challenging her refusal to remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
May, who has struggled to unite her Conservative Party over Brexit, has said Britain will leave the European Union’s single market and customs union after it quits the bloc next March so that London can forge its own free trade deals.That stance has widened divisions not only within her own party but across both houses of parliament, emboldening the House of Lords, where the Conservatives do not command a majority, to hand her the defeat. Britons at large have remained deeply split since the narrow June 2016 vote to leave the EU.
By a vote of 348 to 225, the Lords supported an amendment to her Brexit blueprint, the EU withdrawal bill, requiring ministers to report what efforts they had made to secure a customs union by the end of October.It does not explicitly say Britain must reach a deal on such a union and a government source said it would not change policy.
Lord (John) Kerr, a supporter of staying in the EU at the 2016 referendum, opened the debate by saying the government should be asked to explore the possibility of securing a customs union to limit “the damage to the country’s wellbeing”.
His comments were met by criticism from pro-Brexit peers, who agreed with Viscount (Matthew) Ridley’s description of the amendment as “an attempt to wreck this bill and wreck Brexit”.
A spokeswoman for the Brexit ministry expressed disappointment over the amendment, saying “the fundamental purpose of this bill is to prepare our statute book for exit day, it is not about the terms of our exit”.
It is the first of several defeats the government is expected to suffer in the House of Lords over the remaining stages of the debate in coming weeks.
After the Lords, the bill will return to the House of Commons, possibly as early as next month. Both houses have to agree on the final wording of the bill before it can become law.