May Suffers Series of Brexit Defeats as Lords Demand EEA Option

(Bloomberg) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered multiple defeats over her key Brexit law as legislators ripped up her plans and demanded that she keep the U.K. in the European Union’s single market.

The government lost four votes on its crucial EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday, with the most serious requiring May to negotiate to keep the U.K. in the European Economic Area. The Lords have inflicted 14 defeats on the government’s bill so far.

May Suffers Series of Brexit Defeats as Lords Demand EEA Option

The premier will almost certainly try to reverse the Lords’ decisions when the bill returns to the House of Commons. While the government could live with some of the Lords’ changes, membership of the EEA and single market would cross May’s negotiating red lines.

While businesses might welcome that outcome, remaining inside the single market would mean accepting unlimited immigration from the EU. Controlling migration was a central goal of the pro-Brexit campaign and one which May has promised to deliver.

On Tuesday, the government lost three other votes -- one that removes the specific date of Brexit from the legislation, one that pushes May to keep the U.K. in EU agencies, and another over calls for stronger scrutiny of government lawmaking in future.

May Suffers Series of Brexit Defeats as Lords Demand EEA Option

The re-writing of the Withdrawal Bill piles yet more pressure on the prime minister at a time when she’s battling over Brexit on multiple fronts. Her divided cabinet can’t agree on what customs plans to aim for once the country has left the bloc, and the negotiations are stalled in Brussels while the EU side waits for an answer.

On Monday, Boris Johnson, May’s pro-Brexit foreign secretary, publicly attacked her preferred option for a customs partnership with the EU, while her pro-EU colleagues are threatening to rebel if she does.

In recent weeks, May has suffered a string of losses at the hands of the unelected chamber. Peers have voted to compel ministers to seek a form of customs union with the EU, curtail ministerial powers and expand the scope of a meaningful parliamentary vote on the final deal.

After Tuesday’s sixth and final debate at the “report stage” of the bill in the Lords, it will have a so-called “third reading” on May 16. Further amendments are still possible at that stage: Labour has said a debate on environmental protections is “one to watch.”

It then returns to the Commons, where lawmakers must decide whether to accept the amendments or send it back to the Lords for further consideration.

The government says the Withdrawal Bill is essential for Brexit. It’s designed to ensure that there are no legal holes in the U.K. statute book when the country leaves the EU in March 2019. The bill also formally repeals the U.K.’s membership of the bloc.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.