Lords rebel against May’s Brexit plans: Tory and Labour peers unite in call for UK to remain in EEA
The amendment, put forward by pro-European Labour Party rebels, was one of several voted on by the unelected upper house as part of the EU Withdrawal Bill, the legislation that will formalize the UK’s exit from the European Union.
It now tasks the Government to begin negotiating future UK membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), more commonly referred to as ‘the Norway option,’ which allows for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the European single market.
May’s government lost the vote by 245 to 218. 83 Labour peers rebelled against leader Jeremy Corbyn's demand they abstain, joining with 17 Conservative rebel peers and 84 Lib Dems, among others. It will now go to Commons MPs who will either reject or accept the proposal.
Other amendments which were passed include one, by 311 votes to 233, against plans to have a fixed Brexit day of 29 March 2019 in legislation. Peers also voted in favor of an amendment supporting UK membership in EU agencies post-Brexit by 298 votes to 227.
The three losses brings to 14 the number of defeats suffered by the Government over the legislation, with the latest reversals coming on the sixth and final day of the bill's report stage in the Lords.
The vote is likely to anger Euroskeptic Tory MPs in favor of a hard Brexit whom May has tried to placate along with the pro-Remain members of her party. Brexit minister Lord Callanan warned that remaining in the EEA "would not deliver control of our borders or our laws," adding that staying in the single market “will not deliver on the British people's desire as expressed in the referendum to have more direct control over decisions that affect their daily lives."
Lord Alli, the Labour peer who introduced the EEA motion, said: “It is our hope that common sense prevails over political dogma,” arguing that continued EEA membership was vital to ensure the future profitability of the UK's export business.
While the vote may put May under pressure from both wings of her party’s EU divide, the vote too is embarrassing for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leadership, which has tried to balance its support from mostly pro-Remain supporters in cities and Labour voters outside the capital who were in favor of Brexit, had called for an abstention on the vote. A call which was ignored by the rebellious Labour lords.
Labour rebels backing the amendment included former party leader Lord Kinnock and Lord Mandelson, the latter an ally of Corbyn’s predecessor Tony Blair.
Speaking after the vote, Labour MP Chuka Umunna praised the Labour and Tory peers who voted against their front bench and "put the country's economic interests first".
He added that later today, he would be backing fellow party MP Gareth Thomas’ motion calling for a referendum on the outcome of Brexit negotiations.
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