May humiliated over single market exit
House of Lords' vote requires further talks on EEA membership
11 May, 2018
Britain's upper house of parliament inflicted last Tuesday another embarrassing defeat on PM Theresa May's government, challenging her plan to leave the EU's single market after Brexit, news wires reported. According to May, who has struggled to unite the government behind her vision of Brexit, the UK will also leave the single market and customs union after it quits the Union next March.
That stance has opened divisions within her own Conservative Party but also across both houses of parliament which, like Britons at large, remain deeply split over the best way to leave the EU. By a vote of 245 to 218, the unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, supported an amendment to her Brexit blueprint, the EU withdrawal bill, requiring ministers to negotiate continued membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), meaning that it would remain in the single market.
“The time has come over Brexit, really, for economic reality and common sense to prevail over political dogma and wishful thinking,” said Peter Mandelson, a member of the House of Lords from the main opposition Labour Party, who backed the amendment. His comments drew criticism from pro-Brexit peers, who described the amendment as part of an attempt by “a number of people in this house who wish to reverse the decision of the British people”.
This is the 13th time in recent weeks that the government has been defeated in the House of Lords on the draft legislation that will formally terminate Britain's EU membership. The votes, however, can be overturned by the House of Commons, where May's party has a slim majority with the support of a small Northern Irish party, but could embolden lawmakers who hope to derail her plans to forge a new relationship with the EU.
Earlier, opposition parties in the Lords and rebels in May's Conservative Party inflicted another defeat on the government, voting to strip out the fixed timing for Britain to leave the EU at 11pm on 29 March next year. The government has already set the clock ticking in a two-year exit process hampered by her gamble on a snap election last June which cost her party its majority in parliament. It also remains unclear what the final divorce deal will look like.
Some lawmakers criticised the government's plan to impose a specific date for Britain leaving the EU, saying it would create significant difficulties if negotiations with Brussels went down to the wire. The upper house of parliament also voted last Tuesday in favour of an amendment whereby Britain would continue to participate in EU agencies after leaving the bloc. After the Lords, the bill will return to the House of Commons. Both houses have to agree on the final wording of the bill before it can become law.