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Blow for Theresa May as Lords inflicts seventh defeat on government over Brexit bill

3 min read

The Government has suffered its seventh defeat in the House of Lords on its flagship Brexit legislation.

In another blow for Theresa May, peers voted by 335 to 244 in favour of an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would hand parliament the power to decide what happens next if MPs reject the deal she strikes with the EU.

Supporters of the plan will hope that the size of the majority - 91 - will encourage enough pro-EU Tory MPs to rebel when the bill returns to the House of Commons.

Tory peer Viscount Hailsham, one of those who put their name to the cross-party amendment, said: "If terms have been agreed, the choice available to parliament and in particular to the House of Commons should be to accept those terms or reject those terms.

"If the decision is to reject those terms, parliament should have the right to suggest more negotiations, leave the EU without terms or that we stay in the European Union on the existing terms.

"Whatever the outcome, terms or no terms, this country's future should be determined by parliament and ultimately by the House of Commons, and not by ministers. In a parliamentary democracy, this is what ought to be meant by a meaningful vote."

Former Tory leader Lord Howard accused those behind the amendment of trying to "thwart the will of the British people to leave the EU".

He added: "This new clause is thoroughly and fundamentally misconceived. I'm afraid it demonstrates the appalling lengths to which the diehard Remainers will go to achieve their aim."

His fellow Conservative, Lord Fairfax, described the amendments backers as a "fifth column for Monsieur Barnier and the EU negotiators".

"This is a wrecking amendment that is designed to delay, frustrate and ultimately block Brexit," he said.

Lib Dem peer Lord Roberts stunned the debate by appearing to compare Theresa May to Hitler over the amount of power which he said was being handed to her in the Brexit process.

He said: "My mind went back to Berlin in March 1933, when the Enabling Bill was passed in the Reichstag. That Enabling Bill transferred democratic rights of the parliament into the hands of one man, that was the Chancellor. His name was Adolf Hitler.

"Perhaps I’m seeing threats that do not exist, but they are there, they are possible. Who’d have said before the 1930s that Germany, this cultured country, would involve itself in such a terrible war."

Earlier, Downing Street had made clear their opposition to the amendment, accusing its backers of trying to block Brexit.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "The British people voted to leave the EU and the Government is delivering on that. It is simply not right that Parliament could overturn this."

The Government is braced for a further two defeats on the bill today, bringing the running total to nine.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: "This is a hugely significant moment in the fight to ensure Parliament has a proper role in the Brexit negotiations and that we avoid a no deal situation.

“Labour won the argument at the end of last year for Parliament to be given a meaningful vote on the terms of our withdrawal from the EU. And we are clear that it must be just that: a meaningful vote.

“If Parliament votes down the Article 50 deal, then Parliament must decide what happens next. Under no circumstances can the Prime Minister be given a blank cheque to crash the UK out of the EU without a deal.

“I would urge the Prime Minister to accept this cross-party amendment and recognise that there is no majority in Parliament or the country for a no deal Brexit.”


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