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UK's May survives another Brexit vote as customs union bid is defeated

HO, PRU, AFP | Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May gives a statement on Brexit to the House of Commons on July 9, 2018.

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday faced down a rebellion in parliament over her plans for the country's exit from the European Union, with lawmakers rejecting a key amendment on a Brexit trade bill.


Pro-EU lawmakers – from both May's Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party – had tried to force through a measure to have Britain join a European customs union should there be no trade agreement with Brussels by January.

But the pro-EU lawmakers lost the vote in the House of Commons by six votes – 307 to 301.

The bill, which now goes to the House of Lords, gives the government the power to set up new international trade relationships after Britain leaves the EU next March.

The narrow victory is May's third this week, underlining the difficulty she faces in passing legislation on one of the most divisive and important decisions in modern British history with only a minority government and a party at war with itself.

It comes a day after pro-EU members of May's own party had accused her of "caving in" to Brexit hardliners.

By winning Tuesday's vote, May has avoided the prospect of having to go back on her word that Britain will not be part of any customs union after leaving the EU – something that would have infuriated the pro-Brexit wing of her party.

However, the government did suffer an unexpected defeat on a separate amendment, which means they will now be required to seek to secure an agreement that allows Britain to have continued participation in the European medicines regulatory framework.

Brexit campaign faces police inquiry

In another twist on Tuesday, the officially designated Brexit campaign group, Vote Leave, was fined 61,000 pounds ($81,000) for breaching spending rules in the 2016 referendum and was referred to the police by the Electoral Commission.

The commission said Vote Leave, which was fronted by leading Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, who resigned as foreign secretary last week, and Michael Gove, now environment minister, used an allied group to pay Aggregate IQ, a company which used social media data to target voters, and thus exceeded spending.

Video: Brexit campaign faces police inquiry over referendum spending

"We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits," said Bob Posner, the commission's director of political finance and regulation.

The move by the commission added to calls from opponents of Brexit for a re-run of the referendum, though May has repeatedly ruled out another vote.


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