Pro-European Conservative and Labour MPs join forces over Brexit

Group says it can defeat the government, which wants to leave customs union and single market

Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry: “If they are not going to change their position they are going to lose votes in the House of Commons, it’s as straightforward as that,” says Mr Umunna. Photograph: BBC/PA Wire

Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry: “If they are not going to change their position they are going to lose votes in the House of Commons, it’s as straightforward as that,” says Mr Umunna. Photograph: BBC/PA Wire

 

Pro-European Conservative and Labour MPs have joined forces behind an amendment that would oblige Britain to stay in a customs union with the European Union after Brexit.

The group, which includes former Conservative ministers Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan as well as Labour’s Chuka Umunna, claimed on Friday that they had enough support to defeat the government, which is committed to leaving the customs union and the single market.

“There is no majority in the House of Commons for us not to participate in the customs union, that is absolutely clear,” Mr Umunna said.

“If they are not going to change their position they are going to lose votes in the House of Commons, it’s as straightforward as that.”

The move comes ahead of a speech on Monday by Jeremy Corbyn, who is expected to announce that Labour now supports remaining in a customs union after Brexit. Mr Corbyn said this week that remaining in a customs union could be the only way to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

After Easter

Until now, Labour’s position has been that Britain must leave the single market but that customs union membership should remain as an option. A shift in party policy would allow Labour to whip its MPs in support of the cross-party amendment when it is debated after Easter.

The amendment to the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill says, “it shall be the objective of an appropriate authority to take all necessary steps to implement an international trade agreement which enables the UK to participate after exit day in a customs union with the EU”.

The government on Friday again ruled out remaining part of a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

“If we were part of the customs union, we wouldn’t be able to negotiate trade deals independently with other countries and we wouldn’t have full sovereign control of our destiny as a nation,” health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC.

“Customs union is one way of getting frictionless trade, but it’s not the only way and what we’re saying is that we want to achieve frictionless trade by agreement between two sovereign bodies: the United Kingdom and the European Union.”

Eight-hour meeting

Theresa May will outline Britain’s proposal for a future trade relationship with the EU in a speech next Friday, the sixth in a series of speeches by senior ministers after Brexit. At an eight-hour meeting on Thursday at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence, her Brexit war cabinet agreed that Britain should be free to choose its own regulatory regime after it leaves the EU.

The country would opt for a free trade deal with the EU similar to that enjoyed by Canada but would seek greater access to the single market by voluntarily aligning regulations in some sectors.

“The central common understanding is that there will be areas and sectors of industry where we agree to align our regulations with European regulations,” Mr Hunt said.

Integrated

“The automotive industry is perhaps an obvious example because of supply chains that are integrated. But it will be on a voluntary basis; we will as a sovereign power have the right to choose to diverge, and what we won’t be doing is accepting changes in rules because the EU unilaterally chooses to make those changes.”

Cabinet Brexiteers claimed the policy as a victory but home secretary Amber Rudd, who campaigned against Brexit, said all ministers were content with the compromise.

“We all got behind the prime minister and we’ve agreed the basis for her speech next week and looking forward to it going ahead,” she said.