Discord in the House of May: Tory MPs Clash Over UK's Future in EU Customs Union

© AFP 2022 / Tolga AkmenBritain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on April 18, 2018, as she heads to the weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on April 18, 2018, as she heads to the weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons. - Sputnik International
British lawmakers have gathered at the House of Commons on April 26 to discuss the decision proposed by the UK PM Theresa May to leave the EU customs union. The parliament chamber was less than half-full, indicative of disagreements over the essential Brexit matter not only across the whole political spectrum but also in the PM's own party.

The discussion comes after Mrs. May suffered a defeat on April 18, as the House of Lords voted against leaving the customs union following Britan's departure from the European bloc.

This file photo taken on March 29, 2017 shows a pro-remain protester holds up an EU flag with one of the stars symbolically cut out in front of the Houses of Parliament shortly after British Prime Minister Theresa May announced to the House of Commons that Article 50 had been triggered in London on March 29, 2017. - Sputnik International
May's Office Reiterates Commitment to Leaving EU's Customs Union - Reports
Peers voted by 348 to 225 in favor of renegotiation a new relationship with the EU, including an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which requires government ministers to report on what efforts they had made to secure a customs union by the end of October. The vote was not binding but it gave way to Thursday's debate in the House of Commons.

READ MORE: Theresa May Stares Down Revolt Over EU Customs Union

Former culture minister Ed Vaizey, sacked by Theresa May in 2016 and a member of her Conservative Party, addressed the small number of MPs scattered sparsely in chamber.

He said he is learning more and more about Brexit every day, with a hint of sarcasm.

"I've learnt that there is no longer going to be a bonfire of regulations from the EU — that it's actually all right, we are going to adopt all of the EU regulations. I've learnt we are not trading enough with the EU, so we are going to make it even more difficult to trade with the EU and I've heard that the Good Friday agreement is a waste of time and we're going to have a hard border with Northern Ireland because of Brexit."

Vaizey was one of the ministers in 2015 who said he was worried about the state of the Conservative party under May's leadership.

Another Tory member, Sheryll Murray MP, however, questioned the cost of staying in the customs union.

"No doubt we will still have the divorce bill but on top of that we could possibly, if people voted for a customs union, see an annual bill for effectively staying in."

She added there could be no worse deal where Britain effectively stays in the EU and still has all the costs and no say over it.

"It is a massive betrayal of the British people who voted to leave," Sheryll Murray MP concluded.

Theresa May finds herself between the rock and the hard place on the matter of the customs union, as pro-Brexit officials suggest a "customs partnership" arrangement to replace the current set up. On the other hand, the EU supporters argue that the only way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland is to stay in the customs union.

READ MORE: Post-Brexit Agendas & Power Hunger: Political Dynamics of N Ireland & Scotland

Further discord among the Conservative party members was revealed as Antoinette Sandbach Tory MP said her vote is determined by her constituents' interests that would be hurt in case a European Economic Area (EEA) style agreement is not struck.

"The importance of pharmaceuticals, car manufacturing, food manufacturing, the energy sector and the nuclear sector to the north-west is absolutely clear. The government's own analysis shows that if we don't have an EEA style agreement that there will be a reduction of 12 percent in the GDP growth in the north-west."

Simon Clarke MP of the Conservative party painted a dark picture of Britain's future as a member of the customs union, post Brexit, referring to Turkey's case.

"The only large country which has a customs union with the EU, but which is not an EU member state — is Turkey. But Turkey's customs union is almost unbelievably asymmetrical. The EU doesn't need Turkey's consent to enter free trade agreement with other countries and Turkey is obliged to reduce its tariffs with that country. However, the third country, with whom the EU enters the FDA, is under no reciprocal obligation to open its own markets to Turkish exporters. In other words, Turkey has to open her markets but may not reap any benefits. "

The economic consequences of leaving the EU customs union and the complexity of potential establishment of a hard border between Belfast and Dublin, has been at the heart of the Brexit deal debate. So far, no clear plan on the resolution of the problem has been presented by the government.

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