The Brief – Ermine-clad soft-Brexit warriors

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

The House of Lords, with its ermine clad members, is hard to love. Unelected, the members have an average age of 69. A retirement home for political grandees and business moguls, it makes the House of Commons seem like a beacon of multi-cultural modernity.

But right now it is posing the most serious barrier to Theresa May’s Brexit bill. On Wednesday, the government was defeated twice, and more defeats are likely to follow over the next month.

Media reports tended to focus on the Lords’ vote in favour of a plan requiring ministers to report on steps to negotiate to remain part of a customs union with the EU.

This, undeniably, creates a serious problem for Theresa May, who insists that the UK will leave the customs union after Brexit. The opposition Labour party supports customs union membership.

The unelected Lords only have the power to delay law, but their vote kicks the problem back to the Commons, where MPs will now have to vote again to overturn or accept its amendments.

Around twenty Conservative MPs are believed to support Customs Unions membership, potentially enough to defeat the government. The vote could take place next Thursday, and a resolution signed by ten committee chairs – from all main parties – has been tabled.

The odds are that ministers will use the threat of another election to coerce their rebellious MPs. But they can’t get too precious about every clause. The Withdrawal bill is blocking the rest of the legislative agenda: ministers need to get the bill through.

Equally important, however, are the other amendments that the Lords are likely to approve. An amendment aimed at ensuring that EU clinical trial regulations, which have not yet come into force, were enacted in UK law, was withdrawn after ministers promised to take it on board.

A clause was passed aimed at ensuring that existing social protections resulting from EU law can only be changed by a new bill, rather than be scrapped. Another seeks to guarantee that the UK will continue to be part of the EU’s European Development Fund, ECHO, humanitarian aid missions, and coordinate international aid and development policy.

These are all pragmatic moves which most Britons would support. Some of them were promised by Leave campaigners during the referendum campaign. If ministers have any sense, they will adopt them without any fuss.

Critics say that the Lords are making a great case for being abolished by ‘defying the will of the referendum’. But the Lords could retort that most Britons support a ‘soft Brexit’, and that is what they voted for on Wednesday.

The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

French President Macron headed to Berlin for talks with Chancellor Merkel in a bid to salvage eurozone reform plans in the face of growing German resistance.

Meanwhile, Poland’s deputy finance minister said his country should enter the eurozone, but not yet, because the odds are not yet in the Warsaw’s favour.

For Serbia, the Kosovo question and rule of law remain key areas for improvement to progress towards EU membership, the Commission’s latest enlargement report found.

Former French PM Valls, who was born in Barcelona and became a prominent anti-independence campaigner, does not believe in a separatist solution for Catalonia.

Turkish president Erdogan announced early elections under state of emergency, calling for a “powerful executive presidency” while new purges against alleged supporters of the 2016 failed coup are underway.

Migrants landing on Greek islands should no longer be held there while asylum claims are assessed, a top Greek court ruled. EU officials are alarmed as it could undermine EU efforts to discourage people leaving Turkey.

As regions in transition are most at risk due to economic stagnation, the Committee of the Regions is asking for an enhanced and inclusive Cohesion Policy before the 2019 European elections.

Talks about the EU’s energy efficiency target for 2030 are deadlocked and the debate could have been skewed by bad maths, a new study says. An informal summit today in Bulgaria might mean upcoming negotiations could be more productive.

In the aftermath of the Facebook scandal, MEPs argue that the EU needs more legal safeguards to prevent massive privacy breaches.

An international consortium of journalists has started publishing further revelations aimed at uncovering the truth about the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

Look out for…

Commissioners Mimica and Hahn are going to Washington D.C. to participate in the Spring Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group.

Views are the author’s

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