And we’re back to Brexit with a bump. After a brief pause in the negotiations and legislation, the government has this afternoon been defeated on a customs union amendment in the Lords. The defeat was by no means minor either – peers voted by 348 to 225 in favour of a plan requiring ministers to report on steps to negotiate a continued EU-UK customs union.
This in itself isn’t catastrophic for Theresa May. When the bill returns to the Commons it will most likely be thrown out – and besides it only binds the government to report on the steps being taken to negotiate a customs union so there is wriggle room regardless.
However, the scale of the defeat points to a bigger problem with the government’s strategy. May and her ministers are yet to convince many in their own party – let alone the Opposition – that the best form of Brexit is one outside the customs union. This is why the government had to delay the customs bill after ten Conservative MPs signed an amendment to make securing a customs union with the EU after Brexit its ‘objective’.
This is a problem as for May’s Brexit plan to be a success, the UK needs to be able to strike free trade deals with countries outside the EU – something that it would be very difficult to do if Britain remained in a customs union. The customs bill will return to the Commons later this year and between now and then May must work out how to convince her colleagues that the government’s Brexit plan is one they can put their trust into.