Theresa May facing cross-party Commons ambush over customs union

Posted On: 
19th April 2018

Ministers are braced for a new Brexit bust-up in the Commons, after senior MPs from across the House teamed up to pile pressure on the Government over the UK's membership of a customs union.

The motion was tabled by Labour's Yvette Cooper and the Conservatives' Nicky Morgan

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The Government's Brexit plans endured a bruising set of defeats in the Lords last night, with peers backing amendments to its flagship Brexit bill and urging them to seek a customs union with the EU.

Now key members of the House of Commons Liaison Committee - which brings together the chairs of Parliament's powerful cross-party select committees - have given their backing to a motion explicitly calling on the Government to keep tariff free trade after Brexit by guaranteeing a customs union.

The move raises the prospect of Conservatives opposed to Brexit peeling off to score a symbolic victory against the Government's plans.

The motion, tabled by Labour's Yvette Cooper and the Conservatives' Nicky Morgan among others top MPs, urges ministers to "include as an objective in negotiations on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union the establishment of an effective customs union between the two territories".

It points out that ministers themselves have called for "the freest and most frictionless possible trade in goods" between the UK and the EU after Britain exits the bloc in 2019, and says customs union membership is vital for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland.

In a joint statement, Ms Cooper and Ms Morgan said the UK was "running out of time for Parliament to help to shape the negotiations", and urged ministers to take heed of committee chairs who had "forensically gathered evidence on different Brexit options and the practical implications".

They added: "As two of those chairs, we both believe the case for a customs union is overwhelming - for the sake of British manufacturing, international trade, smooth borders and Northern Ireland peace.

"If Parliament stays silent until after the deal is done, that is just a recipe for conflict and regret later on. Far better for us to debate this properly now and let Parliamentarians express their view before it is too late."

Other key pro-Remain Tories backing the motion include Health Committee Chair Sarah Wollaston, Intelligence Committee chief Dominic Grieve, and Bob Neill, who leads the Justice Select Committee.

It also has the backing of Labour's Hilary Benn, Rachel Reeves and Meg Hillier, as well as the SNP's Pete Wishart and Lib Dem Norman Lamb. A vote on the substantive motion is currently slated for next Thursday.