Relief for Theresa May as government sees off Tory rebellion to win crunch Brexit vote
Theresa May has been handed a huge boost after the Government saw off an attempt by Tory rebels to force Britain to join a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
On an evening of Parliamentary drama, MPs voted 307-301 against a proposed amendment to the Trade Bill which had been tabled by Conservative MP Stephen Hammond.
That came just 15 minutes after the Government had lost a vote after the Commons backed calls for Britain to stay in the European Medicines Regulatory Network after Brexit.
It is understood that government whips had warned potential rebels that they could call a confidence vote in the Prime Minister - potentially leading to a general election - if the customs union amendment was passed.
Under that amendment, ministers would have had until 21 January next year to agree a "frictionless free trade area for goods between the UK and the EU". If they failed, they would need to enter into a customs union with Brussels after Britain leaves the EU on 29 March, 2019.
In remarkable scenes, international trade minister George Hollingberry tried to buy off the rebels by offering to amend the bill when it goes to the House of Lords, but that was rejected by Mr Hammond.
Seeing off that rebellion buys Mrs May some much-needed breathing space as she continues to come under pressure from both wings of her party over Brexit.
On Monday the Government was accused of "caving in" to pro-Brexit Tory backbenchers by accepting a raft of changes to its Cross-Border Trade Bill.
That led to defence minister Guto Bebb quitting as defence minister, and the Government twice avoiding Commons defeats by just three votes.
Former minister Philip Lee, who quit over Brexit last month, tabled the medicines amendment, which he said was "vital" to ensuring British citizens continued to get the treatment they need after Brexit.
He said: "The European medicines regulatory network partnership makes the process of accessing lif- saving new medicines and moving medicines quick and easy. If we leave that partnership, the NHS would get ground breaking new drugs like those for cancer, dementia and diabetes long after other parts of the world."
Barry Gardiner, the Shadow International Trade Secretary, said: "The Government’s handling of Brexit over the past week has been an utter shambles. We have a Prime Minister who is in office, but not in power.
"Each day that Ministers waste arguing amongst themselves increases the risk of the UK crashing out of Europe without an agreement.
"Labour is clear that a new comprehensive customs union with the EU after Brexit is the best way to protect jobs, the economy and to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. Theresa May should finally accept that and get on with the job of negotiating for Britain."