The House of Lords has backed an amendment to May's Brexit blueprint aimed at securing a customs union deal by the end of October.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on April 19, 2018

British Prime Minister Theresa May wants to take the UK out of the European Union’s single market and customs union when Brexit takes effect next March, leaving London to chase its own free trade deals.

But Britain’s upper house of parliament has other ideas. In what is May’s first major defeat since the June 2016 Brexit vote, the House of Lords voted 348 to 225 in favour of an amendment to the Conservative Party’s EU withdrawal bill.

The modification of the proposed legislation will force ministers to explore the option of staying in an EU customs union, and they must report their efforts by October 31.

Lord John Kerr, who was in favour of staying in the EU at the time of the referendum, opened proceedings by saying the government should be asked to explore the possibility of securing a customs union to limit “the damage to the country’s wellbeing”.

In opposition, Viscount Matthew Ridley’s described the amendment as “an attempt to wreck this bill and wreck Brexit”.

However, with the ruling party, and both houses of parliament divided over the Brexit terms, the Lords took the opportunity to defeat the PM.

The Department for Exiting the European Union insists the amendment will not result in the UK staying in an EU customs union.

“We are disappointed that parliament has voted for this amendment,” a spokesperson said.

“The fundamental purpose of this bill is to prepare our statute book for exit day, it is not about the terms of our exit.

“This amendment does not commit the UK to remaining in a customs union with the EU, it requires us to make a statement in parliament explaining the steps we’ve taken.

“Our policy on this subject is very clear. We are leaving the customs union and will establish a new and ambitious customs arrangement with the EU while forging new trade relationships with our partners around the world.”

A second Brexit amendment was pushed through limiting the ability of ministers to use secondary legislation to water down existing EU rights when those rights get transferred to British law.

There are five more days of report stage debate in the House of Lords, before the bill will return to the House of Commons, possibly as early as next month.

Both houses have to agree on the final wording of the bill before it can become law.