EXCL Top Lib Dem peer: Article 50 bill is ‘just the beginning’ of Brexit battle in the Lords

Posted On: 
23rd February 2017

Defiant peers will not give up their fight for a second referendum even after Theresa May has triggered Article 50, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords has declared.

Lord Newby, Lib Dem leader in the House of Lords, speaking at the party's conference last September
Credit: 
PA Images

Lord Newby said the Government’s EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill marks just “the beginning” of his party’s push to secure key amendments on the terms of Britain’s exit from the bloc.

Speaking to the House magazine, the Lib Dem peer also insisted there was growing support in the Upper Chamber for a second plebiscite on the UK’s new relationship with Europe.

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And he claimed that peers are set to defeat the Government on securing EU citizens’ rights to remain after Brexit and on Parliament being given a “meaningful” vote on the final deal.

GREAT REPEAL BILL

The Prime Minister watched on as peers this week debated the bill calling for the two-year Brexit process to be invoked, after the legislation passed its Commons hurdle unscathed.

Next week it will reach committee stage, where peers will lodge and vote on amendments that could send the bill back to the Commons.

Lord Newby said that while the party would push to secure concessions from the Government, he argued the Article 50 bill is just the start of this process.

He said the Great Repeal Bill and other Brexit legislation could offer the Lib Dems further opportunities to influence Brexit, and secure a second EU referendum.

“It’s not the end, it’s the beginning. We don’t know whether there will be scope to do it over the Great Repeal Bill, and amend that,” he said.

"But we will just be campaigning very hard in the country. If the Commons wants to do anything, it can find ways of doing it, it can have a motion at any point on anything."

He added: “We will look at every opportunity to get this provision for a vote of the people at the end.”

Lord Newby said it would be “implausible” for MPs to deny another referendum if public opinion moves in favour of Remain over the next two years.

It comes as Tony Blair enraged eurosceptics by urging Remain campaigners to "rise up" against Brexit and persuade Leave voters to change their mind.

Lord Newby defended the former prime minister's right to speak out: “I think that everybody involved in public life has a right to make the argument, but this is a people’s issue now… it’s not in the hands of the Commons.”

‘CALM BEFORE THE STORM’

Lord Newby said it was very much “calm before the storm” in the Upper Chamber, as he predicted that the Government would be defeated on EU citizens' right to remain post Brexit.

"Unless they make a concession beforehand, I don’t see how they can avoid it," he said.

He also claimed he has cross-party support for a second referendum, citing backing from Labour peer Peter Hain, Tory peer Baroness Wheatcroft and crossbencher Lord Warner as evidence.

“There is clearly support from all benches for the Liberal Democrat fight to give the people a say on the final deal,” he said.

“Very influential figures in the House of Lords spoke strongly in favour of our amendment – for example former Cabinet Secretary Lord Butler. This only highlights the strength of the argument that only the people should decide on this matter –and how much the Conservative Brexit Government is failing them.”

‘BRAIN IS TOO SMALL’

Lord Newby played down claims that ministers would pursue reform of the House of Lords if peers sought to obstruct Brexit.

“It can’t, its collective brain is too small to manage Lords reform and Brexit. It’s just impossible for it to do it, not least because it would almost certainly lose, if not in the Commons, here. So they’re not going to touch it," he said. "They’re just sabre rattling at the moment."

He also dismissed the notion that Mrs May could flood the red benches with Tory peers in retribution for amending the Article 50 bill.

“That would make them ridiculous, and I don’t think they’ll do that. If they did that it would just make the case for reform easier,” he said.

And he insisted that claims peers would thwart Brexit or hinder the Prime Minister’s negotiating position were overblown, as the House of Lords would eventually pass the legislation.

“What are we going to do: we are going to seek to amend the bill. The bill will go back to the Commons, Theresa May, if she’s any sense will accept our amendments, but she won’t probably,” he said.

“So it will come back here, we’ll have a bit of argy bargy but probably not very much. And they’ll get their bill. So what’s the big deal? I think the Government just doesn’t like the thought that anybody can say boo to them.”