Brexit: Two key bills to return to the Commons as MPs prepare for parliamentary warfare

Long-delayed trade and customs bills will be debated in 'mid-July', says Andrea Leadsom

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 07 June 2018 13:01 BST
Donald Tusk tells UK 'we already miss you' after Article 50 triggered

Two key Brexit bills will return to the Commons next month as MPs gear up for weeks of parliamentary warfare over preparations for leaving the European Union.

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom confirmed that the long-delayed trade and customs bills will both be debated by MPs by mid-July, following speculation the government has kicked the vital legislation into the long grass due to fears of conflict with pro-EU rebels.

The announcement came ahead of next week's Commons showdown over Theresa May’s flagship Brexit legislation - the EU (Withdrawal) Bill - where ministers will seek to overturn all 15 Lords defeats during a fraught two-day contest.

It also comes as tensions in the cabinet threatened to boil over, as the prime minister faced a tough response from Brexiteers over her "backstop" proposals for the Northern Ireland border.

Brexit secretary, David Davis, is reportedly considering quitting over the plan, which would see the UK stay in parts of the customs union until a solution was found to the Irish border issue.

Ms Leadsom told MPs: “I agree we must hold these debates as soon as possible and I would like to update the House that these bills will come forward by mid-July at the latest.

“Every week I look carefully at the progress we are making on all legislation and I am pleased that the return of these bills, along with the return to this House with the EU withdrawal bill, demonstrates continued progress towards ensuring we have a fully functioning statute book when we leave the EU.”

However her Labour counterpart, Valerie Vaz, said the programme was “a mess, a shambles” and said it was clear that "this government cannot handle democracy".

Attention has been focused up till now on the withdrawal bill, which will transfer EU law onto the statute books when Britain leaves the bloc.

But there are seven other vital bits of legislation that need to be rubber-stamped before exit day in March 2019.

Among these is the Trade Bill, which will allow the UK to strike free trade deals for the first time in decades, as it has been bound by EU import and export agreements since joining the bloc.

The other key bit of legislation is the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill - also known as the customs bill - which will set out new customs arrangements after Brexit.

Tory Brexit rebels have tabled a string of amendments to both bills, including a new bid to amend the trade bill signed by 12 Conservatives, which would keep effectively Britain in the single market.

Any rebellion from Conservative MPs will present an issue for Ms May, who lacks a parliamentary majority after last year's snap general election.

Ms Leadsom also confirmed that there would now be two days to debate the EU withdrawal bill, after the government drew fierce criticism from Labour for trying to push through 15 votes in a single session.

Key issues including leaving the customs union, the Irish border and what to do in the event of no deal with Brussels.

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