LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis said on Wednesday he expects parliament to back the government’s policy of leaving the customs union at a crunch vote which could come as early as next month.
Debate over remaining in a customs union with the European Union has become one of the main flashpoints in the Brexit debate, which has sowed divisions across Britain.
A government defeat in the upper house of parliament last week has raised questions over Prime Minister Theresa May’s commitment to leaving the customs union, a plan that has split not only her own party but also parliamentary loyalties.
“The government always respects parliament but I expect the government’s position to be upheld,” Davis told a parliamentary committee, when asked whether the government would stand by its policy even if members of parliament vote against it.
If Britain remains in the customs union this would make commerce with the EU easier and potentially avoid the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it would limit the government’s ability to strike other trade deals.
Davis said he expects the EU will eventually agree to a free-trade agreement, dismissing fears that the country could crash out of the bloc.
“I think that’s the massively, overwhelmingly probable outcome,” he said. “The complete absence of any outcome is unlikely.”
Davis said the difficult question of how to avoid a hard border with Ireland might still not be resolved when Britain leaves the EU in 2019.
He said a solution for the border will not be needed until the end of the Brexit transition period because Britain will effectively remain inside the customs union and single market during this phase.
Davis also said that parliament will be able to amend the final deal negotiated with the EU during a vote expected later this year.
This will boost supporters who want a closer relationship with the EU who have identified winning enough support in the lower house of parliament, the House of Commons, to block any possible deal the government brings back from Brussels as their best chance of changing or blocking the government’s plans.
Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Richard Balmforth