UK PM agrees to two amendments to legislation detailing Britain's future customs regime
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with guests as she opens the Farnborough Airshow, south west of London, on July 16, 2018.
London: British Prime Minister Theresa May avoided defeat but lost another minister Monday in a key parliamentary vote over Brexit after bowing to pressure from hardline eurosceptics in her ruling Conservative Party.
May agreed to two amendments to legislation detailing Britains future customs regime tabled by Jacob Rees-Mogg and other hardline Brexiteer MPs, that critics said stymie her own favoured plans, as she avoided a large-scale rebellion from her backbenchers.
But Guto Bebb, a junior minister in the defence department, resigned to vote against one of the changes — the latest in a string of departures from her embattled minority government.
“Im happy to sit down and listen and hear concerns from my colleagues,” the prime minister told lawmakers ahead of the vote.
She insisted the amendments did not deviate from her Brexit plan formally unveiled last week following months of cabinet infighting.
“I would not have gone through all the work that I did to ensure that we reached that agreement only to see it changed in some way through these bills,” May added.
The compromise was vehemently criticised by pro-European MPs in her own party.
Anna Soubry, a vocal proponent of keeping close ties with the EU, told parliament: “One has to wonder now whos in charge in this country?
“These are people who do not want a responsible Brexit,” she added of her hardliner colleagues.
Afraid of their own MPs
The prime minister is struggling to win acceptance for her Brexit strategy from both pro-Brexit and pro-EU factions within her party, with persistent rumours that Tory MPs are planning to topple her.
In a sign of the strains, May will ask lawmakers to sign off Tuesday on bringing forward parliaments six-week summer recess by five days to Thursday.
Opposition MP Angela Rayner branded the move “absolutely pathetic” and accused the government of being “afraid of their own MPs causing mischief”.
May has been forced on the defensive following attacks on her strategy from all sides — including US President Donald Trump, who said during a visit to Britain last week it could kill a potential US-UK trade deal.
Brexiteer critics believe it keeps Britain too close to the EU, while pro-Europeans think it fails to protect Britains dominant services sector, among other gripes.
Two top pro-Brexit ministers, Boris Johnson and David Davis, quit in protest last week followed by a string of junior walkouts, including two more on Monday.
Mondays amendments tabled to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, also known as the customs bill, were seen as a show of strength by hardliners amid the wrangling.
The first locks Britain into only collect tariffs on behalf of the EU if the bloc does the same for Britain — something it has said is unacceptable.
A second mandates the country has a separate goods and services tax from Europe.
More than a dozen Tories rebelled on the two amendments, with the government pushing them through by just three votes, while the bill passed by a majority of 33.
The legislation now passes to the House of Lords for further scrutiny before returning to the Commons for a final vote.
Second referendum support
Earlier Monday a pro-EU former minister described Mays plans as a “fudge” on Monday and became the most senior member of Mays Conservative party to back the idea of holding a second EU referendum.
Former education secretary Justine Greening said the plans to follow EU rules on trade in goods without being able to influence them was “the worst of both worlds”.
Noting the deep divisions in government and parliament on the way forward, she said voters must now decide.
“The only solution is to take the final Brexit decision out of the hands of deadlocked politicians, away from the backroom deals, and give it back to the people,” she wrote in an article in The Times.
May has repeatedly ruled out a second referendum, after Britons voted by 52-48 percent for Brexit in 2016, but Greenings support for a so-called Peoples Vote will give the campaign a huge boost.