MPs reject EEA membership after Brexit in key vote


MPs have rejected a “Norway-style” relationship with the EU as the government defeated a series of House of Lords changes to key Brexit legislation.

In another marathon voting session on Wednesday night, MPs overturned remaining peers’ amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill.

Most notably, MPs dismissed a demand by the House of Lords for the government to pursue membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) as a negotiating objective in Brexit talks.

MPs voted by 327 to 126 to disagree with the Lords amendment, giving the government a majority of 201.

The vote revealed significant Leave and Remain divisions on the Labour benches, with the party splitting three ways on the issue.

The EEA includes all EU member states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Dubbed the “Norway option”, some MPs have cited the EEA as a way for the UK to leave the EU but still remain in the bloc’s single market.

However, the government and Brexiteers are opposed as EEA membership would involve retaining EU free movement rules on immigration.



Labour's Chuka Ummuna reflects on the party's position on Brexit




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A Labour view on Brexit votes

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ordered his MPs to abstain on the vote on whether or not to back the Lords amendment on EEA membership.

However, he suffered a rebellion by 90 MPs, with 74 voting in favour and 15 voting against. Labour MP Susan Elan Jones acted as a teller for the pro-EEA vote, to also contravene her party’s whip.

Six Labour frontbenchers quit their roles in order to defy Labour’s official position on the vote.

Earlier, Mr Corbyn saw MPs defeat Labour’s own amendment to the bill, which would have required the government to negotiate full access to the EU’s internal market.

During MPs’ consideration of Lords changes to the key Brexit bill, the House of Commons also overturned two amendments that peers hoped would push the government into negotiating a customs union with the EU.

However, ministers only avoided a potential Tory rebellion on the issue after tabling their own compromise amendment requiring ministers to outline what steps they will take to negotiate a “customs arrangement” with the EU.

OSLO, NORWAY - MAY 31: A Norwegian flag is seen on the occasion of King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway's 75th birthday celebration at Oslo Opera House on May 31, 2012 in Oslo, Norway. (Photo by Ragnar Singsaas/Getty Images)
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Norway is part of the EU’s internal market through the EEA

A House of Commons showdown on customs between Tory Remainers and Brexiteers is now expected when a separate customs and trade bill is debated by MPs.

The government also won votes to overturn Lords amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill on issues such as environmental standards and the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

MPs rejection of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights remaining part of UK law after Brexit was attacked by a human rights group.

Environmentalists expressed fears the House of Commons’ decision not to back a peers’ amendment means current protections will now be watered down when the UK leaves the EU.

Solicitor general Robert Buckland had earlier offered a concession on the rights of unaccompanied child refugees in other EU member states to come to the UK after Brexit.

Wednesday’s voting means the government has survived all votes on its flagship Brexit legislation during the bill’s latest stage in the House of Commons.

However, a humiliating defeat still looms as the prime minister tries to navigate a compromise on Tory rebels’ demands for MPs to be given a greater say over the Brexit process through a more “meaningful vote”.

Theresa May has vowed to engage with their concerns prior to the bill returning to the House of Lords on Monday, while also having to balance Brexiteers’ fears she could concede too much ground.

After a spokesman for Mrs May sowed confusion over what potential rebels had been offered, the prime minister was hit by calls from pro-EU Conservatives not to backtrack on her promises.

Yet, top Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg used an article in The Times to warn a compromise “must not open the way to stopping the result of the 2016 referendum”.

The EU Withdrawal Bill is likely to return to the House of Commons from the House of Lords in a process known as “ping-pong”.



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