Theresa May faces a Commons showdown today as Remainers demand that Britain stays in the EU customs union.
The Prime Minister’s prospects of holding her Brexit red lines will be tested in a non-binding debate in the House – after the government suffered an overwhelming defeat on the issue in the Lords.
Downing Street has played down the significance of the session, insisting it is a ‘routine backbench business debate’. Most Tory MPs are expected to stay away from the division lobbies.
But a handful of Europhile Conservatives – including former ministers Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve and Bob Neill – have all publicly vowed to back today’s motion.
Theresa May’s prospects of holding her Brexit red lines will be tested in a non-binding debate in the House. She is pictured at PMQs yesterday
The Commons will debate the idea of staying in a customs union as pressure grows on Mrs May from both Brexiteers and Remainers
Former chancellor Kenneth Clarke and backbencher Heidi Allen have also suggested they will vote against Government policy on the issue today.
Pro-Brussels Tories believe they can put on a show of strength that could force the Prime Minister to back down on her vow that the UK will not be part of any customs union with the EU after Brexit.
The debate comes amid growing pressure on Mrs May from both Brexiteers and Remainers.
Yesterday the DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said his party – which is propping up Mrs May in power – could never accept a deal that led to Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of Britain.
He told the Conservative Home website: ‘If, as a result of the Brexit negotiations, there was to be any suggestion that Northern Ireland would be treated differently – in a way for instance that we were part of a customs union and a single market and the rest of the UK wasn’t – for us that would be a red line.
‘We would vote against the Government, because you might as well have a Corbyn government pursuing openly its anti-Unionist policies as have a Conservative government doing it by a different means. ‘The Government’s well aware that when it comes to Brexit and the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom has to leave the European Union and all its institutions together.’
Mr Dodds said there were forces in Dublin, Brussels and Westminster trying to exploit the Irish border issue to ‘thwart Brexit’.
He accused them of ‘continually harping on about the border (even though) they’ve never shown any interest in Northern Ireland’.
There were also a series of calls from senior Tories to stick to her pledge to take the UK out of the customs union.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said it would be ‘ludicrous to be in a customs union’ after Brexit as it would rob Britain of the ability to strike new trade deals.
In the Commons, Tory grandee Julian Lewis asked Mrs May if she ‘still subscribes to her excellent maxim that no deal is better than a bad deal, and does she acknowledge that locking ourselves into a customs union with the EU after Brexit would be a very bad deal indeed?’
A handful of Europhile Conservatives – including former ministers Nicky Morgan (left) and Dominic Grieve (right) – have publicly vowed to back today’s motion
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said yesterday that it would be ‘ludicrous to be in a customs union’ after Brexit as it would rob Britain of the ability to strike new trade deals
The Prime Minister replied: ‘I am very happy to confirm what I have always said: no deal is better than a bad deal.
‘As regards being in a customs union, that means that we would not be able to negotiate our own trade deals around the rest of the world, and we want to be able to do that.’
Brexit Secretary David Davis told MPs he would regard it as a failure if the UK had to stay in the customs union beyond the end of 2020, when the Brexit transition period ends.
Mr Davis said he hoped the first new trade deal would be ready to sign the day on the first day of 2021 – something that would be impossible if the UK stayed in the customs union.
However, he acknowledged that MPs would be able to amend a vote on the final Brexit deal this autumn – potentially allowing pro-Remain MPs to send Mrs May back to the negotiating table.
Mr Davis did not rule out the possibility, but questioned how much force the Government would have in negotiations if it was ‘sent back with its tail between its legs by Parliament’.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock warned there would be a constitutional crisis if the Government ignored an instruction from Parliament.
But Mr Davis told MPs: ‘I’m not going to speculate on amendments that have not even yet been laid, let alone been passed by the House.’