Shock as Theresa May goes to House of Lords to watch peers debate Article 50
Theresa May has taken the extraordinary step of attending the House of Lords in person to watch peers debate the Government’s Article 50 Bill.
The Prime Minister was sitting in front of the monarch’s throne in the upper chamber as Leader of the Lords Baroness Evans warned peers to “respect the primacy” of the House of Commons – and the result of the referendum – and not to hold up the passage of the legislation.
Almost 200 peers will speak in the debate on the second reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill today and tomorrow, before specific amendments to the legislation are considered next week.
Unnamed government sources told the BBC last week that the Lords could face abolition if it tried to block the Brexit process.
A spokesman for Mrs May denied the Prime Minister had been trying to intimidate peers by her presence.
"It's recognition of the importance of this bill as it proceeds through parliament," he said. "We hold the House of Lords in the highest regard and have great respect of its constitutional right to perform the role it does."
Labour, which has tabled eight amendments to the legislation, has repeatedly promised not to delay the Prime Minister’s timetable – and the Opposition leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith, repeated today that her party would not “block, wreck or sabotage” the bill.
She nodded to Mrs May’s attendance in the Lords, referring to the “distinguished guests visiting from The Other Place today”.
The Labour peer also issued a robust defence of the upper chamber’s right to amend the legislation.
“We will not be threatened into not fulfilling our normal constitutional role,” said Baroness Smith.
“We have to have a serious and responsible debate and, in doing so, if we ask the House of Commons to look again at an issue it is not a constitutional outrage but a constitutional responsibility.”
Other senior Labour peers expressed surprise at Mrs May's presence.
It is highly unusual for a Prime Minister to sit in on a Lords debate.
The last known example was John Major in 1990, when he watched Lord Waddington make his maiden speech as Lords Leader.