May Cabinet Wins Brexit Vote on UK – EU Customs Union, Loses on Medicines Agency
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Theresa May has overcome a motion by pro-EU MPs from the ruling Conservative Party which stipulated that the UK would form a customs union with the EU if they failed to reach a Brexit trade deal.
The result from the vote in the British Parliament is doubly important for the May government since a defeat would have led to a no confidence vote, the BBC reported citing unnamed sources.
The May Cabinet’s plan for Brexit provides for retaining close trade connections between the UK and the EU and establishing a joint “free trade area for goods” in a combined customs territory, while stopping short of an outright customs union.
However, it also does stipulate that Britain’s services sector will be excluded, and, respectively, will have less access to EU markets.
The attempt by pro-EU Conservative MPs to change May’s post-Brexit trade negotiations strategy was defeated on Wednesday by 307 to 301 votes.
A total of 12 Tory rebels voted against May’s Brexit plan but four MPs from the opposition Labor MPs voted in favor.
The Cabinet lost, however, a separate vote in which an amendment was passed by 305 to 301 votes to keep the UK in the European medicines regulatory network.
The House of Commons of the British Parliament has been debating two Brexit-related bills on customs and trade.
Under an amendment to the Trade Bill proposed by Tory MP Stephen Hammond’s if the UK does not negotiate a free trade area with the EU by January 21, 2019, the British government ministers would be obliged to begin discussions with the European Union on a customs union.
The British Cabinet’s objection to this motion has been that a customs union with the EU would prevent the UK from striking its own free trade deals with countries from the rest of the world after Brexit.
Tuesday night’s vote on an amendment to protect the links between the UK and the European Medicines Agency, however, was lost by the May Cabinet. This has become only the second time the government was defeated in the British Parliament on crucial Brexit legislation.
The approved amendment is supposed to guarantee the flow of medicines for patients in the UK after Brexit.
The MPs decided that Britain would “all necessary steps” to remain part of the regulatory network of the European Medicines Agency and would make an “appropriate financial contribution” in return.
The agency evaluates and supervises medicines. The amendment has been motivated by concerns that Brexit could potentially result in delays in British patients receiving new drugs.
The EU body on medicines is presently based in the British capital London but will be moving to Amsterdam in the Netherlands after Brexit.
Commentators have seen the lost vote as a testimony to the difficulties May faces in the House of Commons where her ruling Conservative Party does not enjoy a majority on its own.
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