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House of Lords preparing for Brexit showdown over customs union

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Andrew Adonis
Labour peer Andrew Adonis.
John Phillips/Getty

  • Labour peers in the House of Lords are preparing for
    another Brexit showdown with Theresa May.
  • Labour and anti-Brexit campaigners believe the UK
    government can be defeated on the Trade Bill.
  • They want to force May’s government into negotiating a
    customs union with the European Union.
  • Meanwhile, pro-EU MPs believe they will soon have the
    numbers to force May into a soft Brexit

 

LONDON — Labour peers in the House of Lords are preparing for
another Brexit showdown after Parliament returns from summer
holidays amid a feeling in Westminster that the biggest
“pro-Remain” rebellions are yet to come.

Labour whips in the Lords believe that the second reading of the
Trade Bill on Tuesday, September 11 will be the start of “long
run” campaign to force Theresa May into negotiating a customs
union with the European Union. 

The UK government’s current policy is to leave the customs union.
However, doing so will create new border checks for British
exporters, resulting in costly delays in cross-border trade. The
policy also threatens the open border on the island of Ireland,
which May has promised to preserve no matter what happens in
Brexit talks. 

Despite having numerous Brexit amendments thrown out by MPs,
Labour peers are in no mood to back down, and are working
together with Liberal Democrat and cross-bench peers to inflict
another defeat on the government.

“There is still a huge appetite to force the
government’s hand. We are all ready to go again,” a senior
Labour source in the Lords said. “There is no fatigue. We are
used to things getting overturned. It doesn’t put us
off.”

Labour whips in the House of Lords had also discussed tabling
amendments to the Taxation Bill, which will be sent back to peers
on the first day back from recess on Tuesday, September 4th.

However, May’s government quietly added “aids and supplies”
language to the bill prior to the summer recess, an archaic
convention which instructs the House of Lords not amend the
legislation. 

Labour peers are planning to submit a regret motion to the
Taxation Bill in protest against the government’s move to
withhold it from parliamentary scrutiny and prevent another
customs union amendment tabled.

The Trade Bill will be “where all the action happens,” a Labour
source told BI. Anti-Brexit campaigners also believe this piece
of legislation represents the best chance of forcing the
government into a softer Brexit position. 

Labour peer Andrew Adonis told BI: “Fiddling with 101 variants of
a customs union is never going to work. Not least because the
Brexiteers are against the principle customs unions anyway.”

Back in the House of Commons, pro-EU MPs believe a majority of
MPs are ready to sign off any new House of Lords attempt to force
Prime Minister May into negotiating a customs union with the
EU. 

Tory “rebel” MPs believe that anti-hard Brexit colleagues who
have up to now been reluctant to vote against May on Brexit
legislation are ready to rebel this autumn if a deal is no closer
to being agreed. 

A significant number of Conservative MPs have stayed loyal in
order to “let the prime minister have some space to negotiate,”
one leading Tory rebel told BI, but are increasingly anxious
about the growing prospect of no deal.

Another leading Conservative backbencher, Stephen Hammond, made
this claim in an interview with BI last
month
.

“There are a number of colleagues who have wanted to give the
prime minister room and scope to negotiate what her desired
outcome is,” the former government minister said. 

“However, they are also colleagues who are clear that if the
outcome is a no deal, then they’ll make their view well-known
that this isn’t acceptable for Britain. No deal is not
the default. That will not happen.”

A prominent Labour backbencher echoed this, telling BI this week
that pro-EU MPs were “really encouraged” by how many MPs voted
for a customs union before the summer recess, and expect
more to follow in future votes.

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