MPs reject 'soft Brexit' option of staying in EEA

Jigsaw of EU flag saying Brexit in middle and with one piece coming out

British MPs voted 327 to 126 to reject a Lords’ proposal to keep the UK in the European Economic Area after Brexit, a ‘soft Brexit’ option which, among other points, would largely have maintained the status quo for Britons abroad in the EU.

Rejecting EEA membership is in line with the government’s negotiating position that the UK should leave the single market and its free movement requirements.

Almost all Conservative MPs followed the government’s policy to reject the amendment, as did the DUP, however many Labour MPs ignored leader Jeremy Corbyn’s instruction to abstain from a vote, with 75 voting to keep EEA membership and 15 voting against. Also voting for the amendment were the Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP – and three Conservatives: Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke.

Six Labour MPs resigned from frontbench roles in order to vote.

Britain is already part of the EEA as an EU member, along with several non-EU states: Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. EEA members are part of the single market but do not follow all EU rules and leaving the EU does not automatically mean leaving the EEA. EEA citizens have most of the same rights in France as EU citizens apart from on voting in European and local elections or standing as local councillors.

The proposal was an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which will now go back to the House of Lords as part of the process known as parliamentary ‘ping pong’.

MPs also rejected other changes to the bill by the Lords, including one saying the UK should negotiate to stay in a customs union with the EU.

Meanwhile there has been ongoing controversy about amendments related to what powers MPs should have with regard to the EU exit deal.

A number of ‘Tory rebels’ including former attorney general Mr Grieve had gone along with the government earlier this week in rejecting a Lords amendment about the ‘meaningful vote’ on the deal that the government has promised MPs, on the understanding that the government would support a new compromise amendment.

The Lords amendment, which was voted down on Tuesday, would have empowered MPs to tell the government to go back to the negotiating table if they do not like the final exit deal.

Allegedly the government had verbally agreed in private discussions to a new amendment giving MPs power to tell the government what to do if ‘no deal’ was reached between the EU and UK (a situation which would involve a minister making a statement in parliament about this). However the final amendment drafted just says MPs will be able to pass a ‘neutral’ motion saying they have considered the government’s position.

Mr Grieve called it “unacceptable”, and Ms Soubry said MPs would feel “badly let down” and accused Prime Minister Theresa May of “siding with the hard Brexiteers”.

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