POLITICS
19/04/2018 17:43 BST

Brexit Briefing: The Customs Union Just Won't Die

All you need to know from the world of Brexit

HuffPost UK

After a break for Easter, the Brexit Briefing is back!

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1) The Customs Union Is Harder To Kill Than James Bond

PA Wire/PA Images

Theresa May suffered a major Parliamentary defeat over Brexit on Wednesday, after the House of Lords voted to keep open the option of staying in the EU Customs Union.

Peers voted by 348 to 225 for a cross-party amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to require the Government to say how its negotiations with Brussels will continue tariff-free trade with the European Union.

The huge size of the majority - 123 votes - underlined the strength of the alliance of Labour, Liberal Democrat, crossbencher and Tory rebel peers and spells trouble for the PM as a raft of other amendments are due in coming weeks.

But if May thought she could just dismiss the Lords defeat – which only called on the government to make a statement on the issue - she’s wrong.

Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper and Treasury Committee chair Nicky Morgan have teamed up to ensure the Commons has a specific vote on “the establishment of an effective customs union” between the UK and the EU next Thursday.

As I’ve previously calculated, there are 307 MPs on the opposition benches who would support keeping the UK in a customs union – once you strip out Labour Leavers.

That means just 13 Tory MPs need to back the pledge and the Government will be defeated.  

Theresa May suffered a major Parliamentary defeat over Brexit on Wednesday, after the House of Lords voted to keep open the option of staying in the EU Customs Union.

Peers voted by 348 to 225 for a cross-party amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to require the Government to say how its negotiations with Brussels will continue tariff-free trade with the European Union.

The huge size of the majority - 123 votes - underlined the strength of the alliance of Labour, Liberal Democrat, crossbencher and Tory rebel peers and spells trouble for the PM as a raft of other amendments are due in coming weeks.

But if May thought she could just dismiss the Lords defeat – which only called on the government to make a statement on the issue - she’s wrong.

Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper and Treasury Committee chair Nicky Morgan have teamed up to ensure the Commons has a specific vote on “the establishment of an effective customs union” between the UK and the EU next Thursday.

As I’ve previously calculated, there are 307 MPs on the opposition benches who would support keeping the UK in a customs union – once you strip out Labour Leavers.

That means just 13 Tory MPs need to back the pledge and the Government will be defeated.  

2) It All Comes Back To Ireland

PA Wire/PA Images

One card the customs union backers will repeatedly play is that of the Irish border. In a joint blog for HuffPost UK, Cooper and Morgan argue:

“Ministers have rightly insisted both that there cannot be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, or between Northern Ireland and Britain either. But as the Northern Ireland Committee concluded last month, there are no technical solutions, anywhere in the world, ‘beyond the aspirational’, that would remove the need for physical infrastructure at the border. The police have warned that even customs cameras to check number plates at the border may become a security target for dissident groups.”

The Irish border was raised again by European Council President Donald Tusk on Thursday in remarks to the European Parliament.

Delivering his report on the March summit, in which the green light was given to trade talks beginning, Tusk told MEPs: “We want to use the positive momentum in these negotiations to finally settle outstanding issues such as the solution to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

He added: “Without a solution there will be no withdrawal agreement and no transition. Leaders will assess the negotiations in June. In parallel we will start our first talks about the future UK-EU relationship.”

The threat of bringing everything off the table unless a solution is reached sounds dramatic, but as usual, the option remains to kick the issue down the road – again.

Leaders will only “assess” progress in June – suggesting as long as some kind of slight progress is made that will be enough to sate Brussels.

EU leaders are seemingly happy to let the UK’s domestic politics run its course, and hope MPs will tie May into accepting some kind of customs union to solve the Irish border issue.

3) Let’s Finally See How Much Trade That Divorce Bill Is Going To Get Us

scyther5 via Getty Images

It’s taken more than a year, but the EU and UK are finally discussing trade as part of the Article 50 withdrawal process.

Negotiators met in Brussels to plan how to move forward, and four rounds of talks have been put in the diary ahead of the EU summit in June.

Leading for the UK side is Olly Robbins, the civil servant who left running the Brexit Department last September to become Theresa May’s top advisor on the EU negotiations.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Robbins might be suffering something of a bruised ego at present, after losing out to Brexit Secretary David Davis in a row over negotiation planning.

Davis ordered Whitehall officials to start pulling together Brexit goals ahead of the trade talks getting underway, whereas Robbins is reported to favour sticking to a broad, high-level agreement to be signed by Brexit day next March.

Davis’s approach has apparently won out, and according to The Times the Brexit Secretary was “furious” that Robbins was mirroring the approach of Brussels. He fears that the vaguer the agreement, the more Eurosceptic Tories will cry betrayal and potentially vote down the deal and force the UK out on WTO terms.

4) Just 524,000 Windrush Migrants Led To Home Office Errors - Good Luck With Processing 3.7million EU Migrants

eric1513 via Getty Images

The debacle over the treatment of some of the Windrush generation has led to fears being raised over EU citizens living in the UK will be treated after Brexit.

The Home Office plans to process applications from 3.7million residents before the end of the transition period – an ambitious goal to say the least.

As I calculated last year, civil servants are going to have to process around 4,300 applications a day, every day, for two years - ten times the number they currently deal with.

Brexiteers-in-chief Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were in the media today to try to reassure people that the Government was not hostile towards migrants, and Brexit had certainly not fanned such flames.

“Britain has the most liberal attitude towards migration of any European country. And that followed the Brexit vote,” said Gove on Radio 4, as he dismissed claims of “darker feelings” motivating voters.

“The characterisation of it as somehow having led to worse communal relations or a more hostile attitude to migration – that just isn’t borne out by the facts,” he added.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Johnson said the EU referendum result was about “control” and having the ability to “call the shots”, rather than cutting the level of migration.

He added: “It’s not about migration, it’s about control. It’s about who calls the shots. I’m a proud descendant not just of Turks but God knows what. We have prospered and flourished by being open.”

For reference, here is a campaign poster from Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign group which Johnson and Gove both spearheaded.

Vote Leave

 

5) Do People Really Want Another Vote?

Chuka Umunna

More than 1,000 grassroots activists gathered on Sunday to demand a ‘People’s Vote’ on the final Brexit deal.

Politicians from the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties joined leading actors, campaigners and business figures at the rally in Camden. 

Actor Patrick Stewart said he felt voters should be given the chance to have their say on the terms of the UK’s EU exit next year.

This was a topic we covered in our People’s Negotiation last month, and didn’t discover a huge appetite for yet another vote. 

The main faces behind the initiative - Chuka Umunna, Anna Soubry, Caroline Lucas - are all well-known Remainers, so it’s hard to believe this will shift the dial.

The real coup would be getting high-profile Leave voters to call and campaign for another vote. Any out there, feel free to give me the exclusive.

Don’t Get Angry, Get Blogging…

At HuffPost we love a good blog, and here are the finest Brexit-penned entries from this week. Have a read, and if any of them provoke an urge in you to speak your brain, send a blog to ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com and you could find yourself in this very newsletter

Yvette Cooper and Nicky Morgan on why Britain must stay in a customs union

Kuba Jablonowski on why EU citizens must make their voice heard in local elections

Daniela Sime on her research showing young Eastern Europeans face increased xenophobia post-referendum

Dr David Mitchell on why Brexit means the Good Friday Agreement is hanging in the balance