House of Lords hands Theresa May another Brexit defeat
PM warns Conservative rebels they risk damaging integrity of British politics
Theresa May speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on May 16th. Photograph: Getty
Theresa May has suffered her 15th defeat in the House of Lords on the EU Withdrawal Bill after peers voted by 294 to 224 to create a body to enforce EU environmental standards after Brexit. The defeat came hours after the prime ministers warned Conservative rebels that they risked damaging the integrity of British politics by voting against her Brexit plans.
“What this government is doing is delivering on the vote of the British people, which was to leave the European Union, and as we do that we will ensure that we get the best Brexit deal for the United Kingdom. It is important, and I consider it to be a matter of the integrity of politicians, that having given the choice to the British people we should then deliver for them on that choice,” she said.
Ms May was speaking in the House of Commons after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ridiculed her cabinet’s divisions over future customs arrangements. He said members of the cabinet were more interested in negotiating with each other than with the EU, claiming that the government’s mishandling of Brexit negotiations was damaging the economy.
“The government’s uncertainty and recklessness are putting jobs and investment at risk. Last week, Airbus confirmed that its space contract would move abroad post-Brexit and that it was considering its overall position in the UK because of the government’s complete lack of clarity. How many other businesses have warned her that they too are considering their future in this country?” he said.
Ms May’s government plans to publish a White Paper ahead of next month’s summit in Brussels, outlining in more than 100 pages its position on Britain’s future relationship with the EU. Cabinet office minister David Lidington said it would be the most detailed account so far of the kind of partnership it wants with the EU after Brexit.
“Not just on trade but in terms of our continued co-operation on police matters, on judicial co-operation against crime, and on political and diplomatic co-operation in a world where many of the challenges from terrorism, from an aggressive Russia and so on that the other European countries face, are ones we continue to face as well,” he said.
The government remains divided over the customs arrangement, however, with ministers complaining that both Ms May’s preferred option of a customs partnership and the alternative model of maximum facilitation or “max fac” are unworkable. Some ministers are looking at a further option known as “max fac plus delay” which would see Britain remain aligned with the customs union for an extended transition period until technological and administrative solutions to keep trade frictionless are in place.
Mr Corbyn, who wants Britain to remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit, said the prime minister should step aside and let Labour take over the negotiations.
“We have had 23 months since the referendum. We have just 10 months in which to complete negotiations, and the government are in complete disarray,” he said.
“The government are so busy negotiating with themselves that they cannot negotiate with anyone else. If the prime minister cannot negotiate a good deal for Britain, why does she not step aside and let Labour negotiate a comprehensive new customs union and living standards backed by trade unions and business in this country?”