Labour Challenges May To Hold Customs Union Vote This Week To Settle Issue 'Once And For All'

Owen Bennett

Labour is challenging Theresa May to settle the UK’s future customs deal with the EU “once and for all” by holding a crunch vote on Wednesday.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, seen by HuffPost UK, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has offered to give up parliamentary time set aside for Labour to ensure a meaningful vote on a post-Brexit customs union with the EU.

Parliamentary pressure is growing on the Tories to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

Last week the Lords voted in favour of keeping that option open during negotiations with Brussels, and this Thursday a non-binding backbench vote will be held in the Commons on the same issue.

In a letter to the PM, Sir Keir accused the Government of dragging its feet over getting the future customs policy through Parliament out of fear of defeat.

He said: “The debate about our future custom arrangements with the EU is now reaching a crunch point.

“Yet your decision to delay important Brexit legislation, including the Trade and Customs Bills, means that the Commons may not be able to vote on a binding motion on a future customs union for many months.

“This entirely unnecessary delay has led to deep anxiety for businesses and communities across the UK, in particular in Northern Ireland.

“Every day the Government fails to reach an agreement on this issue is one less day to negotiate what our future relationship with the EU will look like.

“If a decision is not made until June then that will leave just three months to negotiate the details of the final agreement.  

“The Government cannot indefinitely delay the passage of legislation through the Commons for fear of defeat on crucial votes.

“Parliament must have the right to debate this issue, scrutinise the Government’s approach and end the uncertainty once and for all. 

“That is why I am urging you to bring either the Trade Bill or the Customs Bill back to the House of Commons this week for their report stage.

“If you do not wish to debate the Bill in Government time, then Labour would be willing to surrender its opposition day debate so the legislation can be debated on Wednesday afternoon.”

May has repeatedly ruled out keeping the UK in the current customs union with the EU after Brexit, as such a move would stop the Government from signing trade deals with other countries.

But the EU has repeatedly warned that leaving the customs union could lead to a hard border between the UK and Ireland, and although May has vowed this will not happen, it remains a major sticking point in the Brexit talks.

Even if the PM does not accept Sir Keir’s invitation to hold a meaningful vote on future customs partnership on Wednesday, she risks being embarrassed by MPs on Thursday.

Home Affairs Committee chair, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, and Treasury Select Committee chair, Tory Nicky Morgan, have joined forces to bring forward a motion calling on the Government to establish “an effective customs union” with the EU.

While the vote is not binding on the Government, if it passes it would highlight the difficulties May will have in getting her own plans through the Commons without a compromise.

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