Labour Lords face down abolition threats and table eight amendments to Article 50 bill
The Labour leadership in the House of Lords have tabled eight amendments to the Article 50 bill – despite warnings from the Government not to delay or thwart the Brexit process.
Opposition peers said they would not be “cowed” by threats of abolition, insisting the “stakes are too high” not to try to improve the legislation.
Baroness Smith of Basildon, Labour’s leader in the House of Lords, has put her name to eight proposed changes that follow broadly the failed amendments tabled by the Opposition frontbench in the Commons.
She said: “The triggering of Article 50 and the huge negotiating and legislating task that will follow involve some of the biggest decisions the UK government and Parliament have had to take in generations. We have to get it right.
“As Labour’s Leader in Lords I have repeatedly said that we will not seek to block or sabotage the start of this process. The Lords, as always, will challenge and scrutinise legislation put before us and if necessary we will pass amendments on issues where we wish the Commons to take another look.
“That is our role as the unelected House, and we will not be cowed by threats of abolition or flooding the place with hundreds of new Tory peers. The stakes are too high and we will do our duty.”
Baroness Hayter, Labour’s Brexit spokeswoman in the Lords, added that the amendments tabled focused on “process rather than specifying outcomes from the negotiations”.
Downing Street earlier had to disown briefing from a government source that the second chamber could be scrapped if it blocked Brexit.
The source had said: “If the Lords don't want to face an overwhelming public call to be abolished they must get on and protect democracy and pass this bill.”
The comments provoked an outcry from a Labour strategist, who described them as “pathetic”, and added: “Whichever attention seeking junior minister or SpAd is saying this should dial it down, put on their red trousers and enjoy their skiing break over the recess.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesman stressed that the source’s stance was “not the view of the Government”.
“We fully respect the very important role the House of Lords plays,” the spokesman added.
“There’s an important role to play in scrutinising and debating legislation and it will now proceed with that.”
The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has its second reading in the Lords on 20 and 21 February, before committee stage the following week and report stage and third reading on 7 March – the earliest the bill can complete its passage through parliament.
If changes are made to the legislation in the Lords, however, the bill must return to the Commons, where MPs will either approve or reject the amendments.
The eight amendments from Labour’s frontbench in the Lords are:
Guaranteeing the UK Parliament will vote on the final deal before the European Parliament (something the Government conceded in the Commons, but did not put into legislation),
Quarterly reports from the Government on the progress of negotiations,
Guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals living in the UK,
Prioritising trade arrangements and cooperation with the EU,
Assurances about the role of devolved governments,
The publication of impact assessments on the implications of future trade arrangements,
Separating out the process of leaving Euratom to leaving the EU,
And requiring the Government to have regard to the Good Friday Agreement.