Government loses customs union vote in Lords
Britain’s House of Lords inflicted two defeats on the government on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Members of Britain’s upper house passed by a majority of 123 an amendment designed to force the government to explain the steps taken to secure a customs union with the EU. While some pro-Remain outlets are hailing the customs-union defeat as a triumph, some Brexit-leaning politicians were sanguine. Since the amendment does not commit the government to a change of policy, ministers could report that no steps had been taken at all. The amendment needs yet to be passed in the more powerful House of Commons, where the government does have a working majority. However, the vote may embolden rebels in Prime Minister Theresa May’s party and the opposition to back a more substantive amendment. A second amendment, which would restrict ministers’ ability to rewrite legislation without consulting parliament, passed by 97 votes.
Commonwealth immigration scandal stokes EU resident fears
A scandal has erupted in the last two weeks after it emerged that Britain has deported Caribbean-born UK citizens who are unable to prove their status. Many examples have hit the front pages of members of the so-called “Windrush” generation, who arrived in Britain in the late 1940s and early 1950s from its then-imperial possessions to help it rebuild after the Second World War. After the war, parliament briefly extended UK citizenship to all those born in its possessions, which allowed some half a million newly-minted citizens to take up residence. Today, some brought to the UK as children without documentation are being asked to prove their status to the Home Office – which is proving difficult for those who did not legally require passports to come, nor have since acquired them; compounding the problem, the Home Office destroyed or lost a number of these individuals’ documents shortly before deciding to begin requiring extensive proof of residence. The saga has cast doubt on the ability of Britain to honour its promise to EU citizens and their children that they will be able to stay in the country in peace. European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt MEP said EU nationals could face a “bureaucratic nightmare” years down the line if similar actions are taken.
Future talks begin
Senior British and EU officials have opened talks on the future relationship they will enjoy after Brexit. While the EU insists formal trade talks cannot begin until the UK becomes a third country in March 2019, there is disagreement over how detailed preliminary talks can be to expedite the conclusion of the agreement before 31 December 2020, when Britain’s transition period is scheduled to end. Germany is pushing for a detailed text to avoid surprises in the negotiations after 2019, while others are keener on a vaguer text to either encourage the UK to change its mind, or to keep pressure on the British side in the two-year transition period.
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