Ministers 'scrambling round to fill time in voteless Parliament'
Ministers are "scrambling round" to fill parliamentary time in a bid to avoid damaging votes on Brexit, a senior Labour MP has claimed.
Hilary Benn, who chairs the Brexit Select Committee, accused the Government of hosting a two-day "general debate" on European affairs in the Commons as means to avoid a vote on the UK's continued membership of a customs union after exit day.
Shadow Brexit minister Matthew Pennycook said it was "frankly extraordinary" the Government was holding a general debate on European affairs rather than dealing with Brexit related legislation.
The debates prevent a vote on Conservative MP Anna Soubry's EU customs union amendment to the Trade Bill - new clause five - which would force the Government to commit the UK "to participate after exit day in a customs union with the EU."
Mr Benn warned ministers that they would "not be able to put those votes off permanently."
He said: "We should be very grateful that we have the opportunity over two days to discuss European affairs, but is a reminder that there's one thing ministers don't want us to be doing over two days which is voting on any amendments to keep us in the customs union.
"This is definitely going to be remembered as the Brexit Parliament, it's undoubtedly the backbenchers Parliament and at the moment running the risk of becoming the voteless Parliament because business managers are scrambling round to fill the time with anything other than votes on important matters."
Mr Benn went on to share his dismay at the Irish border issue which continued to "rumble on unresolved", he said: "We've been looking at free trade agreements all over the world, every single one of them involves some checks on some goods.
He added: "While I recognise that the suspension of belief is essential to magician's art, it's not a very sound foundation for Government policy."
Earlier in the debate, International Trade Minister Greg Hands said he and his ministerial colleagues in his department have made more than 100 overseas visits in the last 18 months.
He said: "We've set up 14 trade working groups covering 21 countries, these are ones with substantial market size."
Mr Hands reiterated the UK wants a "bespoke" trade agreement with the EU, adding they must also look outside Europe.
He said: "The IMF estimates that over the next decade or so, 90% of global growth will come from beyond the EU. China adds an economy the size of Switzerland every year. There'll be over one billion middle-class African consumers in the year 2060."
Mr Hands also highlighted growth in the Commonwealth before adding: "These are unprecedented opportunities yet these are harder to reach from behind the EU's customs wall.
"Only once we can sign our own independent trade deals can we take full advantage of this. Signing those deals means being outside of the customs union."