Theresa May is pleasing no one with her Brexit balancing act


A key piece of Brexit legislation has scraped through the Commons, despite another minister resigning over it.

The most important of the four amendments from the ERG, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, had been created to frustrate May's compromise proposals over customs arrangements agreed at Chequers and had been initially been opposed by the government until Downing Street made a sudden U-turn in the afternoon. On Monday, May managed to narrowly win by three votes, relying on the votes of some anti-EU Labour MPs.

This appeared to fly in the face of the position she set out in the Brexit proposals she agreed with her Cabinet 11 days ago at Chequers and set out last week in a much delayed White Paper.

The level of support they attract will draw intense focus, particularly if the number significantly exceeds the 48 required to call for a vote of no confidence in May's leadership of the Conservative party.

Justine Greening described Theresa May's plans the "worst of both worlds", and suggested a vote between three options: the Prime Minister's Chequers plan, remaining in the European Union, or a no-deal Brexit.

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In a sign of the pressure facing her, Downing Street is considering sending MPs on their summer break early by bringing forward the parliamentary recess from next Tuesday to Thursday.

May's spokesman said the changes to the bill, formally called the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, did little more than put government policy into law.

Indeed, Conservative Remainers reacted with anger at the government's decision to accept the Brexiteer demands, with one claiming it is "complete madness".

The trade bill, partner legislation to the customs bill, returns to the Commons for MPs to decide the framework for Britain implementing post-Brexit worldwide trade deals.

The DUP has criticised the growing demands to hold a second referendum on the UK's membership of the EU.

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Supporters of the amendment, however, indicated it may not be moved to a vote on Monday night, partly because Remain-supporting Conservatives do not want to undermine the prime minister when she is vulnerable on her right flank.

He added: "The European Union is a slow and not very effective negotiator of free trade agreements".

Remainer conservative MPs warned that the Brexit plan amended by hardliners increase the likelihood of a no-deal divorce, and that prospect is becoming more tangible in Brussels as well.

The bill is also due to have its third reading on Monday, and it could be in jeopardy if the angry Tory Brexiters join with Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems, who are expected to vote against it.

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