Fresh blow for Theresa May as government suffers another Brexit defeat in House of Lords

Posted On: 
23rd April 2018

Peers have inflicted another defeat on Theresa May by backing calls for the Charter of Fundamental Rights to be incorporated in UK law after Brexit.

Theresa May has been defeated again on her flagship Brexit bill.
PA Images

Lords voted 316 to 245 in favour of an amendment to the Government's flagship EU (Withdrawal) Bill - the third loss ministers have suffered on the legislation in just five days days.

Ministers argued that including the Charter - which guarantees certain human rights for all EU citizens - in the bill would continue to give the European Court of Justice some say over the UK statute book after Brexit.

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But the cross-party amendment said it should continue to have effect, while ensuring that ultimate power remained in the hands of British judges.

Crossbench peer Lord Pannick, one of those moving the amendment, said the Government's plans were "quite simply a recipe for confusion".

He also called into question ministers' reasons for not wanting the Charter to apply in the UK after Brexit.

"I fear that the Government is seeking to make an exception because the Government is suspicious of the very concept of fundamental rights," he said. "I am puzzled as to which of the rights protected under the Charter to which the Government takes exception."

Lord Pannick added: "This bill should not be used as an excuse to reduce the legal rights which we all enjoy against the state. The exclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights from this bill is unprincipled and unjustified."

But Tory peer Lord Shinkwin said backing the amendment amounted a "vote of no confidence in parliament" to protect human rights.

He said: "The people have spoken and have chosen by a clear majority to leave the EU and take back control of their laws. The UK is their country, not ours. We may have been the masters once, but not now. We are their servants, they are the masters and they have spoken in a once in a generation referendum.

"We don't need this Charter, we in this Great British parliament set the benchmark for human rights, not the EU and certainly not the ECJ.

"A vote for this amendment would be a vote of no confidence in this parliament and in this House. It would also be a vote of disdain for the British people who voted to leave the EU."

In the Lords last Wednesday, the Government was defeated by 348 votes to 225 over an amendment calling on ministers to negotiate a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

Peers also voted by a majority of 97 to limit the use of secondary legislation when it comes to transposing EU worker and consumer rights into UK law.

Paul Blomfield, Labour's Shadow Brexit Minister, said:

"This is a welcome decision by the House of Lords.

"The future of human rights protections is not a party political issue. It is about the type of country we want to be and the values that we want to champion. 

"Labour reject the Government’s decision to rule out transposing the Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law after Brexit. It risks leaving a gaping hole in human rights protections and reducing the protections for UK citizens.

"This vote is yet another signal to ministers that their approach to Brexit is flawed and that they need to think again."

A spokesperson for the Brexit department said: "We are disappointed that the House of Lords has voted for this amendment in spite of the assurances we have provided.

"The Charter of Fundamental Rights was never the source of rights in the UK - it simply reaffirmed rights that already existed in EU law and the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will convert this EU law into UK law.

"We will review this decision when the Bill returns to the House of Commons to ensure we deliver a workable piece of legislation that provides certainty as we leave."