Fri, Jun 15, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Pro-EU proposals on Brexit blocked in UK parliament


A screen grab shows members of the Scottish National Party walking out of the House of Commons in London on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP / British Parliamentary Recording Unit

British lawmakers on Wednesday rejected proposals by pro-EU politicians that were intended to lock the UK into the bloc’s customs union and single market after Brexit.

The House of Commons voted by a wide margin against a call to join the European Economic Area — which includes the EU nations and Norway — after Conservative and opposition Labour leaderships opposed it.

Lawmakers also much more narrowly rejected calls to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU.

The votes came after two days of bruising debate on the European Union Withdrawal Bill.

In a series of votes, the House of Commons largely reversed changes inserted by the House of Lords that would have softened the terms of Brexit.

However, it is likely only a temporary reprieve. Many lawmakers said it seemed likely that Britain would have to remain in a customs union with the EU, even though the government insists it will leave, saying that doing so would free the country to strike trade deals around the world.

It also threatens the invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, as the bill promises that the border would stay open and there would be no “physical infrastructure,” but the British government has not said how that can be achieved if the UK and the EU have different customs rules.

It was inevitable “we will have to come to a customs union agreement,” even if it was given another label, pro-EU Conservative lawmaker Heidi Allen said. “Partnership, love dance — don’t care what you call it.”

The government was forced to give ground to pro-EU lawmakers in one key area: promising that parliament would get more say over the divorce deal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the government would amend the bill to address legislators’ concerns, but added: “I cannot countenance parliament being able to overturn the will of the British people.”

A paper laying out the UK’s position on future relations has been delayed until next month, because the Cabinet cannot agree on a united stance.

Brexit has also complicated relations between the British government and Scotland, where a majority voted in 2016 to stay in the EU.

Scottish National Party lawmakers on Wednesday walked out of the House of Commons to protest the short amount of time given on Monday to debate Scotland-related issues — 20 minutes out of a six-hour session.

The pro-independence party accuses the British government of trying to seize powers that would be handed back from Brussels after Brexit.

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