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Lords inflict 10th defeat on government Brexit bill as peers back calls for open Irish border

2 min read

Ministers have been ordered to preserve the frictionless border between the Republic and Northern Ireland as the House of Lords inflicted a tenth defeat on the Government's flagship Brexit bill.

In another blow for Theresa May, peers voted by 309 to 242 in favour of an amendment stating that leaving the European Union must not infringe upon the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

They include ruling out the return of any form of hard border once the UK quits the customs union and single market.

Tory peer Lord Patten, one of those who put their names to the cross-party amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, said "the border is closely related to the survival of the Good Friday Agreement".

He said: "The new clause puts on the face of the bill the Government's commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and makes it clear what is meant by a frictionless border."

The former Conservative Cabinet minister said anything which put the peace process at risk "is blundering into the politics of Northern Ireland with a policy that is sometimes clueless and sometimes delinquent, with a can of petrol in one hand and a box of matches in the other - that is what we are in danger of doing".

But former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble, who helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago, said: "It is a mistake to link this legislation with the maintenance of peace in Northern Ireland. I do not see a connection. This is scaremongering on a fairly limited basis."

The passing of the amendment is a fresh headache for the Prime Minister, who is already faced with trying to overturn previous Lords defeats when the bill returns to the House of Commons later this month.

They include an amendment urging the Government to agree a customs union with the EU, and another calling for parliament to be given a role in the Brexit negotiations if MPs reject the final withdrawal agreement.

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