- Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks
Theresa May has seen off a significant challenge to her Brexit plans, thwarting a rebel Tory move which could have forced her to try to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU.
But the Prime Minister went down to defeat on a separate amendment to her flagship Trade Bill, which will require her to seek continued UK participation in the EU’s system for regulation of medicines after Brexit.
In dramatic scenes in the House of Commons, ministers made a last-ditch effort to stave off defeat by offering to introduce amendments in the House of Lords which would deal with “the essence” of rebel Tories’ concerns over future customs arrangements.
But despite the rebels’ rejection of this overture, Mrs May emerged triumphant by a margin of just six votes, as the Commons rejected the key amendment by 307-301.
The amendment would have forced the Government to adopt a negotiating objective of seeking to keep the UK in “a customs union” with the EU after Brexit, unless it has managed to negotiate a “frictionless free trade area for goods” by January 21 next year.
Downing Street insisted that this would have breached Mrs May’s red line, set out in last year’s Lancaster House speech and enshrined in the Chequers Cabinet agreement, to take Britain out of the customs union.
- What did the Government lose on?
The crucial vote came moments after the Government went down to defeat by 305-301 over medicines regulation.
Some 12 Conservatives – Mr Hammond, Heidi Allen, Kenneth Clarke, Jonathan Djanogly, Dominic Grieve, Phillip Lee, Jeremy Lefroy, Nicky Morgan, Bob Neill, Antoinette Sandbach, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston – joined opposition MPs to vote the measure through.
The successful amendment requires Mrs May to make it an objective in negotiations with Brussels to ensure that the UK can continue to participate in the regulatory network operated by the European Medicines Agency.
The EMA is being relocated from London to Amsterdam as a result of Brexit.
- Will there be an earlier summer recess?
No - the Government has performed a U-turn on bringing forward MPs' summer holidays.
They are due to rise for the summer recess on July 24, but a motion tabled on Monday night would have seen the Commons rise on Thursday, with a vote pencilled in for Wednesday.
But the Government did not move the motion amid growing Tory opposition to the plan, with several pro-European Tories having already indicated they would have opposed any attempt to cut short the term with so much work to do on Brexit.
Labour was also understood to have instructed its MPs to vote against the proposal.