House of Lords deals fresh blow to May over Brexit deal

The House of Lords voted by 366 to 268 on Tuesday in favour of amending British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit law.
The House of Lords voted by 366 to 268 on Tuesday in favour of amending British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit law.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

It votes in favour of changing British PM's draft law to give Parliament final say over terms of exit from EU

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May has suffered a fresh blow to her plan to trigger the start of Brexit talks after Upper House lawmakers demanded the power to reject the final deal she reaches with the European Union (EU).

The House of Lords in London voted by 366 to 268 on Tuesday in favour of changing Mrs May's draft Brexit law to give Parliament the ability to send her back to the negotiating table if legislators decide the terms of Britain's exit agreement are not good enough.

Rebels in Mrs May's Conservative Party joined forces with opposition Labour and Liberal Democrat members of the unelected Upper Chamber to defeat the government.

It is the second time they have defied the Premier on amendments to the Bill giving her power to formally notify the EU that Britain is leaving the bloc. Another change to the wording, passed last week, aims to protect the rights of EU citizens living in Britain.

Last year's referendum vote to leave the EU was an instruction to government ministers to negotiate exit on "the best terms" they can get, not to leave "whatever the cost", former Tory Cabinet minister Douglas Hogg told lawmakers during Tuesday's debate.

"This country's future should rest with Parliament and not with ministers."

Ms Dianne Hayter, speaking for the opposition Labour Party, said that without the amendment, it would be mandatory for the EU Parliament to give its consent to the eventual Brexit deal, but not for the British legislature. "It's about authorising Parliament," she added. "It's to put wheels on the outcome of the referendum."

Mrs May fired government adviser Michael Heseltine for leading a 13-strong revolt in the House of Lords.

Her defeat means that she will either have to accept the changes - which she has argued would weaken her in negotiations - or try to delete the amendments.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said ministers will seek to overturn the Lords' amendment when the Bill goes back to the House of Commons, expected to be next week.

The focus now switches to identifying how many Conservative rebels in the Commons will be prepared to defy Mrs May and vote to keep the amendments.

She has a majority of only 17 in the House of Commons, so it needs just a few of her own lawmakers to change sides to make defeat possible.

Mrs May wants to open Brexit talks by the end of this month by formally invoking Article 50 of the bloc's Lisbon Treaty.

She has not set a date for making the move and there are conflicting reports on when she might pull the trigger, ranging from March 15 to March 31.

With an eye on future parliamentary battles ahead, some Conservatives are urging a snap election to bolster Mrs May's support among MPs. "The government could face many close votes, concessions or defeats as it tries to implement Brexit," former leader William Hague wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

But changing the law to bring the election forward from 2020 would not be easy and for now, Downing Street is publicly ruling it out.

Tuesday's amendment guarantees Parliament a veto over the final Brexit agreement, as well as the power to stop Mrs May walking away from talks without a deal, something she has threatened to do if she does not like the EU's offer.

Mrs May wants the 137-word draft to go through Parliament without changes to give her the maximum freedom to negotiate with EU leaders.

Her office confirmed that the vote she is planning to give Parliament without the amendment would simply be one on whether to accept the deal or to leave without a deal.

WASHINGTON POST, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2017, with the headline 'House of Lords deals fresh blow to May over Brexit deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe