Theresa May Gains Narrow Win On EU Trade Laws

The lucky victory sees her maintain control of parliament and her position as Prime Minister.

LONDON (Reuters) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May narrowly avoided a defeat in parliament at the hands of pro-EU lawmakers from her own party on Tuesday, fending off a rebellion that had threatened to deepen a crisis over her Brexit strategy.

Parliament voted 307 to 301 against an amendment to trade legislation in a vote that had been closely followed by currency markets, and was seen as a test of May’s ability to deliver a smooth British exit from the European Union and keep her job.

The amendment would have required the government to try to negotiate a customs union arrangement with the EU if, by Jan. 21, 2019, it had failed to negotiate a frictionless free trade deal with the bloc.

Theresa May won the trade laws vote by just six points. Image: Getty Images.

But there was no guarantee that the issue of retaining a form of customs union -- which pro-EU MPs see as vital to preserving industrial and commercial supply chains - would not resurface.

One Conservative lawmaker present told Reuters that the party whips whose job it is to enforce discipline, desperate to win the vote, had threatened to call a confidence vote in May if she lost, a move that could bring down the government.

Tuesday’s legislation was technical in nature -- focusing on converting trade deals between the EU and third countries into bilateral deals with Britain - and was not originally intended to define new trade policy.

Showing how tight the numbers are, the government did suffer an unexpected defeat on a separate amendment, which means it will now be required to seek continued participation in the European medicines regulatory framework.

“Very significant defeat of govt tonight on European medicines regulation amendment. Near miss on customs union amendment. Margin is closing on these votes & we will keep at it,” tweeted Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, which favors a customs tie with the EU.