The lesson of today's government climbdown: we're likely heading for soft Brexit

Brexit customs arrangment

Ministers had mounted an unprecedented public negotiation with Tory rebels in the House of Commons a bid to avoid defeat over the terms of a vote by MPs on the final Brexit deal.

Brexit minister David Davis had earlier warned lawmakers that the government would never allow them to "reverse Brexit" or undermine negotiations.

To make matters worse, the justice minister, Philip Lee, resigned just hours before the start of the debate in protest at his own government's position on Brexit.

"Any agreements must create as little friction as possible for trade", she said, adding: "We must not constrain our ability to negotiate trade agreements with other countries around the world by being bound into a customs union".

But in apparent defiance of the deal the rebels believed they had struck with May, a spokesperson for the DExEU said: "On the meaningful vote we have agreed to look for a compromise when this goes back to the Lords".

Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent in favour of leaving the European Union in a June 2016 referendum.

In a "risks" section, the prospectus for the new fund said that before and after Brexit "there is likely to be considerable uncertainty as to the position of the United Kingdom and the arrangements which will apply to its relationships with the EU".

Grieve's proposal also suggested if no deal was reached by February 15, the government would be required to allow the House of Commons to set the terms of the deal.

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In a dramatic day of votes on Theresa May's flagship Brexit bill, a bid to give teeth to the Prime Minister's promise of "no physical infrastructure" on the border was waved through successfully without a vote.

After days of frantic lobbying by Conservative officials to try to get the party on board, May renewed appeals for unity over the "meaningful vote", after the government appeared to have secured a compromise to stop a similar rebellion on Wednesday over Britain's trading ties with the EU.

He told BBC Two's Newsnight: "If it doesn't happen then obviously this isn't the end of the matter because ultimately it is very likely that this amendment will come back".

"The truth is I'm really anxious for my constituents, really anxious for the direction of travel that we are taking generally: I respect the decision in the referendum but we are closing off options of how we conduct future relationships in ways which are utterly damaging to ourselves".

Meanwhile, Brexit campaigners are still concerned that the concession may enable the European Union to force Britain into retaining the closest possible ties with the bloc by weakening the government's hand in the talks.

Some of the pro-EU rebels said they had been assured by May that elements proposed by Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve would be brought into the European Union withdrawal bill, which will sever ties with the bloc and "copy and paste" its laws. A shadow minister and several junior aides had to resign in the process. She now relies on the support of a small Northern Irish party.

"Now it's Labour's turn to show its dysfunction", said one Labour lawmaker. "Theresa May has so many nooses dangling around her neck that one of those nooses is sure to hang her".

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