- Vote to keep Britain in the single market defeated by 299 votes to 136.
- Labour join government in defeating single market amendment.
- Cries of “shame” as Labour say reducing immigration must take priority.
- Labour rebels accuse front bench of sacrificing the UK’s prosperity.
LONDON — Labour last night helped the Conservative Party defeat an amendment to the Brexit bill which would have kept Britain in the European single market.
A cross-party group of peers put forward the amendment seeking to maintain Britain’s current trading relationship with the EU.
However, it was defeated by 299 votes to 136 after Labour whipped its peers to vote against any changes that would have allowed the free movement of people from the EU to continue.
Labour’s Brexit spokesperson Baroness Hayter said that a vote to stay in the single market would have defied the will of the people on immigration.
She told the House that accepting the single market amendment would be acting “as if the referendum had not happened and the result was not for leaving.”
She added that continued single market membership would be akin to “airbrushing”people’s desire to restrict immigration.
“We cannot simply airbrush free movement from the referendum decision,” she said.
“If we turn around to those who voted out and say, ‘Yes, well, we’re out but still have everything exactly as it was, with free movement unchanged,’ I think that might evince some surprise.”
She added that doing so would be “asking [the] Prime Minister to eat her own words” which “is something that this House probably cannot and would not want to do.”
No re-run of the referendum
There were cries of “shame!” as Labour’s leadership in the House of Lords confirmed that they would vote against the amendment.
Labour’s Lord Hain, who helped sponsor the amendment, attacked his own party for prioritising reducing immigration over Britain’s future prosperity.
“Both the government and, may I say sadly, my party leadership in the Commons, have effectively put the migration issue ahead of jobs and prosperity, and I think that’s fundamentally mistaken,” he said.
“Of course human rights and of course migration issues have to be addressed. But to put that first, to put migration first ahead of jobs and prosperity, which depend on the single market, is perverse in the extreme in my view.”>
Labour’s Lord Mandelson agreed, saying that leaving the single market would be an “economic disaster for our country.”
EEA membership ruled out
Mandelson called on the government and the Labour front bench to consider continued membership of the EEA trading block.
Several European countries are members of the EEA while not being EU members. This allows them to enjoy full access to the single market while not being subject to full membership terms.
However, Baroness Hayter rejected Mandelson’s call, saying that staying in the EEA would “make us mere recipients of rules decided elsewhere.”
Mandelson responded in exasperation.
“With great respect, we would not be mere recipients,” he said.
“We would be large, senior, influential members of the EEA negotiating our membership of it on terms that would give us significant influence over policy-making and rule-making in the European Union. Everyone accepts that and I cannot understand why my own front bench cannot see it.”
Speaking for the government, Brexit Minister Lord Bridges of Headley said that a vote to stay in the single market, the EEA, or the customs union would “mean not leaving the EU at all.”
He urged peers to “stop fighting the battles of the campaign [and] come together to help us to think of ways in which we can continue to thrive, continue to trade and to overcome some of these challenges.”
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