A rebel Labour amendment to the EU withdrawal bill; aimed at securing a vote in the House of Commons on the UK remaining in the European Economic Area (the Single Market), passed on Tuesday. This was both a defeat for the government, and a rejection of Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit policy by Labour peers.
The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament, and exists to complement the work of the House of Commons, by challenging and scrutinising government legislation. A bill must be passed by a majority in the Lords and Commons before receiving royal assent and becoming law, and the House of Lords retain the power to suggest modifications to government bills in the form of amendments. These amendments must now be debated and voted on by MPs in the House of Commons in the near future.
The European Economic Area (EEA), is an agreement consisting of 28 member states, which is aimed at allowing each state to trade seamlessly with one another. The agreement provides for membership of the EU’s single market based on accepting fundamental principles of freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital. Membership of the EEA allows for membership of the single market, but also means that the UK would have to implement any new EU legislation without having a say in its construction. It does not cover the common agriculture or fisheries policies.
Some Labour peers abstained from the vote, whilst 83 Labour peers voted against the party whip, and were further backed by 17 Conservative Lords. It will likely have the effect of forcing the leadership of both parties to definitively state whether they are in favour of remaining in the single market, in particular whether Jeremy Corbyn is in favour of the ‘Tory Brexit’ proposed by the prime minister. Corbyn has advocated for the renationalisation of Britain’s energy network and railways, plans that will be jeopardised if the UK remains in the EEA. It also intensifies tensions between Labour leadership and its generally pro-remain MPs and membership at large.
Current text of EU Withdrawal Bill, returning, at some point to Commons:
– commits Govt to negotiate EEA membership
– prepare for customs union membership
– has no exit day
– commits to the Charter of Fundamental Rights
– a “meaningful vote” that would in effect stop No Deal
— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) May 8, 2018
Lord Alli, a prominent member of the cross-party group that defeated the government bill, has argued that membership of the EEA is vital to the success of the British economy. He claimed that “it is the EEA that deals with services, services like retail, tourism, transport, communications, financial services and aerospace where we have a £14bn trade surplus.”
Lord Alli, speaking during a House of Lords debate (Source: ITV)
That said, concerns over some of the effects of freedom of movement make continued membership of the Single Market a risky political proposition for both Labour and the government. Traditional Labour voters from cities like Bradford, Derby and Sunderland voted in favour of Brexit partly to curtail immigration from eastern Europe, which they perceived to be a threat to employment and living standards.
These fears were articulated by a spokesperson from The Department for Exiting the European Union, who insisted “the referendum was a vote to take control of our borders, laws and money”. To Brexit supporters, the EEA is the antithesis of what ‘taking back control’ must entail.