UK government faces more bruising Brexit debate in Commons

The Commons will vote Wednesday on the divisive issue of Britain's future customs relationship with the EU.

13 June 2018 | 15:49

Source: Associated Press

  • Source: Associated Press
  • Last update: 13 June 2018 | 15:49

This photo shows pro-European Union and anti-Brexit demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Dec 21, 2017. (AFP Photo)

LONDON: The British government faced more bruising debate on its key Brexit bill Wednesday, after being forced to give ground to pro-EU lawmakers to avoid defeat.

The House of Commons was holding a second day of votes on the European Union Withdrawal Bill, intended to disentangle Britain from the bloc. The government is trying to reverse changes inserted by the House of Lords that would soften the terms of Brexit and give Parliament more say in the process.

The government averted defeat Tuesday by promising that Parliament would get more say over the U.K.-EU divorce deal. But pro-EU lawmakers warned they could rebel again if the promise was not met.

Lawmakers will vote Wednesday on the divisive issue of Britain's future customs relationship with the EU.

Even before debate got underway, Brexit sparked drama in the House of Commons Wednesday, with Scottish National Party lawmakers walking out to protest the short amount of time given to debate Scotland-related issues on Tuesday — 20 minutes out of a six-hour session.

The pro-independence party accuses the British government of trying to seize powers that will be handed back from Brussels after Brexit and which the SNP believes should go to Scotland's Edinburgh-based parliament.

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in Parliament, called the situation "a democratic outrage."

"Scotland's voice has not been heard," said Blackford, who was expelled from the chamber for repeatedly challenging the Speaker on the issue, sparking a walkout by his colleagues.

It has been two years since Britain voted to exit the EU, and there are eight months until the U.K. is due to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019.

But Britain — and its government — remain divided over Brexit, and EU leaders are frustrated with what they see as a lack of firm proposals from the U.K about future relations.

May's government is divided between Brexit-backing ministers such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who support a clean break with the EU, and those such as Treasury chief Philip Hammond who want to keep closely aligned to the bloc, Britain's biggest trading partner.

A paper laying out the U.K. government position on future relations, due to be published this month, has been delayed until July because the Cabinet cannot agree on a united stance.

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