The House of Commons was holding a second day of votes on the European Union Withdrawal Bill, intended to disentangle Britain from the bloc. The government is trying to reverse changes inserted by the House of Lords that would soften the terms of Brexit and give Parliament more say in the process.
The government averted defeat Tuesday by promising that Parliament would get more say over the U.K.-EU divorce deal. But pro-EU lawmakers warned they could rebel again if the promise was not met.
One of the thorniest issues being debated Wednesday was Britain’s future customs relationship with the EU.
The government says the U.K. will leave the bloc’s customs union, but many businesses fear that will mean tariffs or other barriers to British goods in Europe.
It also imperils the currently invisible border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. Britain and the EU agree there must be no customs posts or other border infrastructure to impede the free flow of people and goods, but the U.K. has not said how that can be achieved if it is outside the customs union.
Pro-Brexit politicians argue that staying in an EU customs union would limit Britain’s freedom to trade with other countries. But pro-EU Conservative lawmaker Heidi Allen said it was inevitable “we will have to come to a customs union agreement,” even if it was given another label.
“Partnership, love dance — don’t care what you call it, that’s what we will need to avoid any border to Northern Ireland,” she said.
Even before debate got underway, Brexit sparked drama in the House of Commons Wednesday, with Scottish National Party lawmakers walking out to protest the short amount of time given to debate Scotland-related issues on Tuesday — 20 minutes out of a six-hour session.
The pro-independence party accuses the British government of trying to seize powers that will be handed back from Brussels after Brexit and which the SNP believes should go to Scotland’s Edinburgh-based parliament.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in Parliament, called the situation “a democratic outrage.”
“Scotland’s voice has not been heard,” said Blackford, who was expelled from the chamber for repeatedly challenging the Speaker on the issue, sparking a walkout by his colleagues.
It has been two years since Britain voted to exit the EU, and there are eight months until the U.K. is due to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019.
But Britain — and its government — remain divided over Brexit, and EU leaders are frustrated with what they see as a lack of firm proposals from the U.K about future relations.
May’s government is divided between Brexit-backing ministers such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who support a clean break with the EU, and those such as Treasury chief Philip Hammond who want to keep closely aligned to the bloc, Britain’s biggest trading partner.
A paper laying out the U.K. government position on future relations, due to be published this month, has been delayed until July because the Cabinet cannot agree on a united stance.
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