Nick Clegg: Lib Dem peers will try to block Brexit without second referendum
Liberal Democrat peers will attempt to block Brexit if Theresa May refuses the British people a say on the final EU withdrawal deal, Nick Clegg has revealed.
The Lib Dem former leader and deputy prime minister said if the Government pursues a “self-harming hard Brexit” without the promise of a second referendum, MPs and peers could refuse to give their consent for the triggering of Article 50.
Mrs May faces an almighty battle to push Brexit legislation through parliament after the High Court ruled yesterday that she does not have the power to unilaterally set the ball rolling on the two-year withdrawal process.
If the Lib Dems try to block the plans in the Lords - where coupled with Labour they hold a majority - it would risk triggering outrage more fierce than when peers blocked George Osborne's cuts to tax credits.
The Government has announced it is going to appeal the High Court judgment in the Supreme Court, and insisted it still expects to invoke Article 50 by the end of March.
But Mr Clegg said it would be “fruitless” for the Government to risk further delay by fighting the case in the Supreme Court as he laid down his warning on the legislative process.
He told Radio 4's Today programme: “We will seek with other parties in both the Commons and the Lords to amend the legislation such that parliament would say to Government that it should pursue a soft Brexit not a hard Brexit and that there should be some means by which the British people can have a say on the final deal when the negotiations with the EU are finally completed years ahead.
“On that basis, and assuming there is a body of opinion across the parties in parliament for something along those lines, if we were to be able to marshal opinion behind that approach then people will vote in favour of Article 50 triggered on that basis.
“If the Government, on the other hand, digs its heels in and says 'we are going to go for a more self-harming, hard Brexit and not give anyone a say on the final package' then I think people will say 'hang on a minute, we're not sure if we're going to give you consent on that basis'.”
But Tory former frontbencher and Brexit campaigner Theresa Villiers shot back: “It would be a constitutional outrage if unelected Liberal Democrat peers were to stand in the way of implementing a clear result of a referendum in which 33 million people took part.
Mrs May also faces trouble from her own party in the Lords, after Tory peer Baroness Patience Wheatcroft said a majority in the upper house could back delaying Article 50 until the Government's plans were clearer.
“It's only right to delay triggering Article 50 until we have a clearer idea of what it entails and I think there are others in the Lords who feel the same way," she told the same programme.
"How many, it's hard to say. But I think there could be a majority in favour of delaying Article 50 until we know a little more about what lies ahead.”
'HYPOCRISY AND VILIFICATION'
Elsewhere, Mr Clegg condemned pro-Brexit campaigners and media outlets for their “apoplectic vilification” of the three judges who delivered yesterday's High Court ruling.
He said: “The rank hypocrisy of these Brexiteers who said we had to take back control by quitting the European Union, and particularly take back parliamentary, control now seem outraged at the exercise of greater parliamentary control at the decisions that need to be taken.”
Mrs May is expected to tell EU boss Jean-Claude Juncker that Brexit will not be blown off course by the landmark ruling.