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British PM May faces embarrassing Brexit defeat in upper house

From Reuters - April 17, 2018

LONDON (Reuters) - Britains upper house of parliament is expected to inflict an embarrassing defeat on Theresa Mays government on Wednesday, challenging her refusal to remain in a customs union with the European Union after Brexit.

The prime minister, who has struggled to unite her Conservatives over Brexit, has said Britain will leave the EUs single market and customs union after it quits the bloc next March so that London can negotiate its own free trade deals.

That stance has widened divisions within the party and raised the prospect of a defeat in parliaments upper House of Lords, where the Conservatives do not command a majority.

Some Lords, from all parties, have indicated their support for an amendment to her Brexit blueprint, the EU withdrawal bill, which would require ministers to report what efforts they had made to secure a customs union by the end of October.

It does not explicitly say that Britain must reach a deal on such a union. Conservative lawmaker David Jones described it as an attempt to give oxygen to EU supporters in the lower house.

It is a very strange amendment. Frankly it would not stop Brexit and it wouldnt require us to stay in the customs union, he told Reuters, adding he was not overly concerned by the vote.

The government is expected to suffer several defeats in the Lords over the remaining stages of the debate in the coming weeks.

Leader for the main opposition party in the Lords, Angela Smith, said the upper houses amendments were a chance to offer May an opportunity to bring forward sensible changes in response to concerns raised previously in the Lords.

A failure to do so however, will amount to kicking the can down what could be a very rocky road, she said in a statement.

If the government is defeated, the bill will return to the House of Commons, where the prime minister could try to get support for a reversal of the amendment. Both houses have to agree on the final wording of the bill before it can become law.

A vote in the Commons could come as early as next month andwould add pressure on Maysome of whose own lawmakers want Britain to stay in a customs union with the EUas talks start on a future trade deal with the bloc.

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