The government’s defeat in the House of Lords over Brexit will not derail the Brexit process, ministers have vowed.
The Lords called on the government to look at ways of staying in the EU customs union – a move that would enable goods to flow more freely, but would prevent the UK signing any new trade deals with other countries.
A huge majority of peers in the unelected House of Lords are opposed to Brexit, and critics say the latest move is an attempt to undermine the democractic will of the British people, as expressed in the referendum.
Conservative peer Lord Forsyth said: “What is going on here is an exercise by Remainers in the House who refuse to accept the verdict of the British people and I believe they are playing with fire.”
Brexit minister Lord Callanan said the Government did not support the Lords amendment and would seek to overturn it in the House of Commons.
He said: “We have set out our two potential options for a future customs relationship with the EU, but these amendments would send a signal that the Government won't seek to negotiate them and instead pursue an outcome the Government has ruled out,” he said.
Nerve agent attack brings sides closer
Meanwhile the horrific nerve agent on attack Yulia and Sergei Skripal in Salisbury could spell the start of a new cold war – but it may be the catalyst for warmer relations between the UK and EU on Brexit.
It’s early days yet, but the Russian attack prompted not just widespread condemnation from Europe, but also the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats across the EU.
Theresa May received a noticeably warm welcome from leaders when she arrived in Brussels for the EU summit to ratify the newly-negotiated transition deal – a far cry from a year ago, when she was almost ignored.
It heralds a more positive note to the start of Brexit trade talks, which have now got under way.
The Salisbury attack was not just an unprecedented attack on a European nation, but one that saw the UK go to extraordinary lengths to share intelligence with its EU allies.
According to newspaper reports, the UK divulged “unprecedented levels of intelligence” to convince member states that Russia was behind the attack.
‘Huge degree of standing’
The move won not only vital support, but also reassured – and perhaps reminded – EU allies that when it comes to security, the UK would always remain at the heart of Europe.
In a parliamentary debate, Conservative MP and deputy party chairman James Cleverly, said the response to the Salisbury attack “shows she has a huge degree of standing amongst our European friends”.
He added: “It bodes well for a pragmatic and mutually beneficial conclusion to these Brexit negotiations.”
The Salisbury attack on 4 March came just two weeks before UK and EU negotiators reached a breakthrough on a draft transition deal.
Although the UK will officially leave the EU in exactly 12 months’ time (29 March 2019), almost everything will stay exactly the same until the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier went out of his way to congratulate Theresa May at the summit, saying the transition deal marked a “decisive” moment in “this difficult and extraordinary negotiation”.
“We have reached an agreement on the transition period, which the European Council agreed to in principle in December. It will be of limited duration as requested by UK and EU,” M Barnier said.
As well as the transition deal, negotiating guidelines for the next stage of the talks were ratified by the 27 EU leaders after Theresa May left the summit.
The guidelines called for the EU to have “as close as possible a partnership” with the UK in future, covering trade and economic co-operation as well as the fight against terrorism and international crime, security, defence and foreign policy.
Some hard-line Brexiteers accused the government of caving in too easily on the implementation period, as it is officially known, conceding on issues such as freedom of movement, which will continue until the end of the transition.
The right to control fishing in UK territorial waters has also been surrendered during this period – much to the anger of fisherman, allowed to keep just 30% of the total catch in British waters under EU rules.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called it a “massive sell-out”, while Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives and touted by many as a possible future Tory leader, blamed the EU for not being willing to shift on the issue.