It was Labour divisions that were exposed on Wednesday by votes on the EEA plan. The Lords’ amendment, which MPs rejected, went further in requiring the withdrawal agreement to be placed on a statutory footing.
Pro-Brexit members of the government want to be able to play the “no deal” card, but the House of Commons, where pro-EU voices are stronger, would nearly certainly reject the idea.
The lower chamber, the House of Commons, voted against amendments introduced by the House of Lords.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposal would align British trade rules with those of the European Union until a permanent deal is worked out, and her government has said that it expects such an agreement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest. At one point, six Labour frontbenchers quit party posts in defiance over Corbyn’s single-market policy.
But while that vote seemed assured, tensions over Britain’s departure from the European Union boiled over in parliament, where lawmakers from the Scottish National Party walked out in the middle of questions to the prime minister in protest at what their leader said was Scotland being ignored in the Brexit debate.
Scottish Government ministers and SNP MPs were outraged when amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill related to devolution were passed by the House of Commons after just 15 minutes of debate – with Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington the only member who made a speech. The EU will not formally ratify the transition deal without reaching an agreement on the details of the backstop plan.
MPs, ministers and officials all agreed Tuesday that a soft Brexit or even the prospect of no Brexit is greatly increased – so too the prospect of a snap early election before the end of the year.
Pro-Brexit politicians argue that staying in an EU customs union would limit Britain’s freedom to trade with other countries.
Other changes insisted upon by the Lords relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, principles of European Union law to be retained after Brexit and European Union environmental principles were also removed.
“We have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the government’s hands in the negotiations”.
In turn, a UK government spokesperson said: “The Prime Minster has been clear that we will never accept a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom”.
The House of Commons was holding a second day of votes on the European Union Withdrawal Bill, meant to disentangle Britain from the bloc. The prime minister still has time to come up with a form of words acceptable to both sides, but the expectations of the anti-Brexit rebels have been raised significantly.
The concession was prompted by an amendment from Dominic Grieve which demanded MPs had a bigger say on the final withdrawal agreement. Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour is in a similar bind.
The European Economic Area amendment seeks to keep Britain in the European single market via membership of the EEA after it has left the EU – also known as the Norway model.
MPs have won a concession from the Government over the future of the Irish border, ensuring there will be no physical “checks and controls” after Brexit.
Mr Grieve confirmed he voted with the UK Government after receiving assurances, telling Sky News: “I am quite satisfied we are going to get a meaningful vote”. However, the party is divided on the issue, with a total of 89 Labour MPs choosing to defy Corbyn. A shadow minister and several junior aides had to resign in the process.
Ged Killen, Ellie Reeves, Tonia Antoniazzi, Rosie Duffield and Anna McMorrin all handed in their resignations as parliamentary private secretaries (PPPs), alongside Smith.
While these revelations don’t immediately affect the British Prime Minister, they are likely to stiffen the resolve of the die-hard Remain supporters – including some Conservative MPs – who want the Brexit plans to be put to another referendum.