British Prime Minister Theresa May won a series of votes in parliament on Monday, keeping her over-arching strategy to leave the European Union just about on track after bowing to pressure from Brexit supporters in her party.
But by accepting the demands of hardline Brexit campaigners, she exposed her vulnerability in parliament, where both wings of her Conservative Party attacked each other, highlighting the deep divisions that have so far hampered progress in talks with the EU.
May has vowed to stick to her plan to negotiate the closest possible trade ties with the EU, saying her strategy was the only one that could meet the government’s aims for Brexit, the biggest shift in Britain’s foreign and trade policy for decades.
But even before the EU has had time to assess her vision for Britain’s future ties with the bloc, her plans have come under fire from both camps in the Conservative Party, reports Reuters.
One pro-EU ex-minister called it the “worst of all worlds”, while eurosceptics said the strategy kept Britain too close to the bloc.
On Monday, Brexit supporters targeted the government’s so-called customs bill, hoping to toughen up her plans. But instead of facing them down and fuelling tensions, the government accepted their four amendments.
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.
But by hardening the language to emphasize that the future collection of duties and taxes by Britain and the EU be on a reciprocal basis, some lawmakers feared that Brexit supporters may have made May’s plan less sellable to the bloc.
Parliament voted 318-285 to pass the bill. It will now go to the upper house of parliament before becoming law.
After a rowdy debate when Conservatives criticised members of their own party, junior Treasury minister Mel Stride told parliament: “We have had a full, robust and comprehensive debate today as is entirely appropriate for a bill of this importance, importance to our ability to continue after our departure from the EU as one of the world’s great trading nations.”
For now, May’s plans appeared still largely on track.
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