Brexit: MPs defeat Labour bid to force government to release secret customs plans

​MPs have blocked attempts to force confidential cabinet papers on Brexit to be released to Parliament.

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington claimed it would be extremely damaging for the quality of Government decisions if Labour’s motion requiring publication of papers on the UK’s two future customs models, including any economic analysis, was approved.

The House of Commons voted 301-269 – majority 32 – against a Labour bid to force Theresa May to release documents about her customs plans.

Mrs May is currently deadlocked over which of her two plans for customs to pursue after Brexit.

A ‘customs partnership’ option, which would require the UK to collect tariffs on behalf of the EU, has been rejected by Brexiteers.

But their ‘max-fac’ option, which would involve some border friction minimised with technology, could be dismissed by Ireland.

Labour demanded “all papers, presentations and economic analysis” on customs since January be offered up to the House of Commons.

The party used archaic parliamentary rules called a ‘humble address’ to force a binding vote on the issue.

The motion involved calling on Queen Elizabeth to direct the government, and it is the same mechanism Labour used in November 2017 to obtain studies on Brexit.

The government tried last night to rebuff Labour by saying it would soon publish its vision for Brexit, setting out over more than 100 pages its plans for everything from fishing to finance to security cooperation.

And Tory MPs were being whipped to vote against the motion.

A Downing Street source said before the vote: “We will be opposing the motion.

“It is a long-held and important principle that cabinet ministers are able to receive candid advice from civil servants and it is important that the confidentiality of that advice remains.”

The Prime Minister has asked ministers in her cabinet sub committee to look into two customs options.

They have been meeting regularly, but a meeting of her so-called Brexit war cabinet on Tuesday again ended without agreement.

Ministers have suggested that any decision could take weeks.

And today David Davis dealt her option a severe below by challenging its legality.

This afternoon Labour will use what’s called a humble address to force a binding vote in the Commons on releasing the papers.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: “The Government’s Brexit strategy is in complete and utter deadlock.

Nearly two years on from the referendum ministers have still yet to agree what our future customs and trading relationship with Europe will look like after Brexit.

“Instead, the Prime Minister has wasted months pursing her two fatally flawed customs options and presiding over a government that is too busy arguing with itself to negotiate for Britain.”

Meanwhile the Tories’ flagship EU Withdrawal Bill finally passed its last hurdle in the House of Lords tonight – after 20 days of debate and 15 defeats.

In the final blow tonight peers voted by 294 to 244, majority 50, for the maintenance of EU environmental principles and standards post-Brexit.

The defeat, in third reading debate on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, follows 14 earlier reverses for ministers.

After weeks of scrutiny of the legislation tensions between peers broke into the open with an extraordinary attack by Tory former deputy Commons Speaker Lord Framlingham, who accused colleagues of trying to wreck the Bill.

To cries of “shame” and “rubbish” from other peers, Lord Framlingham said scrutiny of the Bill had seen the Lords “at its worst” as peers “used and abused” the parliamentary system to try to “further their own ends and stop us leaving the EU”.

Tory colleague Lord Cormack told him: “If anybody is doing damage to the reputation of this House it is you.”

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