May faces defeat as Labour backs customs union amendment

Pippa Crerar Deputy political editor
Theresa May’s Brexit plans could be thrown into further disarray after Tuesday’s vote. Photograph: PA

Theresa May faces a damaging Commons defeat, as Labour confirmed it would back an amendment tabled by rebel Tory MPs seeking to ensure Britain remains in a customs union after Brexit.

The prime minister’s Brexit plans could be thrown into further disarray with two more pro-EU government ministers understood to be considering quitting their roles in order to back the move on Tuesday.

Tory remainers Nicky Morgan and Stephen Hammond have tabled an amendment to the trade bill under which Britain would be forced to join a customs union with the EU if no agreement were reached on frictionless trade by 21 January 2019.

The pro-European group believes it has at least 10 Tory MPs prepared to support its plans in the vote on Tuesday night, and possibly more, with the ministers among those considering joining the rebels.

Labour also confirmed it would vote against the plan to bring forward the summer recess to Thursday this week, putting Tory MPs in the invidious position of having to defend voting for an early break to their constituents.

It would also mean that there would be almost no time for Tory MPs to hold a confidence vote in the prime minister if one was called.

Leavers led by Jacob Rees-Mogg forced the government on Monday to back four amendments to Brexit legislation, including one intended to scupper May’s plans for a new customs deal. The concession infuriated Tory remainers.

May was on Tuesday morning debating her next move with her cabinet at Downing Street after denials that the changes killed her Chequers plan, which faces a precarious path through the Commons.

A senior Labour source said: “We saw yesterday there is no majority for May’s Chequers’ agreement. But there is a majority for a customs union. Today parliament has the chance to change the course of the Brexit negotiations, protect jobs and the economy. Fingers crossed the Lib Dems turn up.”

The Brexiters defeated the most controversial amendments by just three votes on Monday night. The Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, and his predecessor Tim Farron were both criticised for missing the vote.

Hammond told the Guardian: “Our new clause supports keeping Chequers on the road and personally I think that’s very important because it’s the best chance for a negotiation and therefore I hope the government accepts new clause 18 as well.”