LONDON — Theresa May has narrowly defeated an effort by pro-EU MPs to keep Britain in a customs union with the European Union after Brexit.
The House of Commons voted against an amendment to the Trade Bill which would have forced the prime minister to pursue a full customs union with the EU if she has failed to secure frictionless trade by January 2019.
The amendment, tabled by pro-EU Conservative MPs Stephen Hammond and Nicky Morgan, was defeated by 307 votes to 301.
Potential rebels were warned by Conservative whips that defeating May on the bill could trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister and a general election.
Despite these warnings, 12 Conservative MPs voted against the government. However defeat for May was averted with the help of four pro-Brexit Labour MPs.
The result will come as a huge relief to the prime minister amid pressure from pro-Brexit MPs not to soften her position on Britain’s departure from the EU.
Around 40 Tory MPs have reportedly already submitted a letter to the party leadership calling for a vote of no confidence. A vote of no confidence will be held if 48 or more are submitted.
However, in a seperate result the government was defeated on an amendment to keep Britain in the European Medicines Agency — the EU agency covering medicine regulations — by 305 votes to 301.
The defeat on the amendment, put forward by former minister Phillip Lee, is only the second time the government has been defeated in the Commons on Brexit legislation.
This latest Commons vote on Brexit followed chaos in Westminster on Monday when May was forced to ditch her own Brexit policy in order to avoid a defeat at the hands of pro-Leave MPs led by the backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg.
No early holiday for MPs
May’s government were also forced to abandon their bid to go on parliamentary recess five days early.
A planned motion to allow MPs to go cancel sittings of parliament next week was abandoned after Labour MPs threatened to defeat it.
The House of Commons Speaker John Bercow welcomed the decision, saying that an early „holiday” would have sent the wrong message to voters.
He said he doubted the government would attempt the same again and urged them to realise that „people outside this place don’t have the capacity to bring forward their holiday by several days.”