Parliaments

Brexit bill: Highlights from the Lords debate

Theresa May in the House of Lords
Image caption Theresa May found time to keep an eye on Brexit Bill proceedings in the House of Lords

The House of Lords returned from its half term break to debate the bill that will give the prime minister the power to start the process of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.

The bill passed second reading stage without a vote, but will face further hurdles in the coming weeks as peers seek to amend the bill.

The House of Lords is considered a tougher test for the legislation than the Commons because of the large number of pro-EU members, and in the debate some peers expressed willingness to not just amend the legislation, but vote against it entirely and continue fighting against Brexit.

Others expressed their belief that, however disappointing the result, the referendum must be respected.

But there were also a number of enthusiastic, pro-Brexit voices, urging their fellow, unelected peers not to impede the mandate of last June's referendum.

Here are a few of the more notable quotes and moments.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, Leader of the House of Lords

"The bill was the subject of detailed debate in the other place [the House of Commons] and was passed unamended with an overwhelming majority of 372. It comes to us with a strong mandate from both the people and the elected House. We should not overlook that."

Baroness Smith of Basildon, Leader of the Opposition, Remain

"We will not block, wreck or sabotage the legislation before us. Whatever our personal views, disappointments and genuine concerns for the future, that is not the role of this House. However, as I have also said, neither should we provide the government with a blank cheque. It would be irresponsible to merrily wave the government off to negotiate our future without parliamentary engagement or accountability, and merely ask them to return two years later with a deal. If sovereignty is to mean anything, it has to mean parliamentary responsibility."

Lord Newby, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Remain

"I believe that we should [amend the bill]. Brexit is the most important single issue which has faced the country for decades. For many of us, the approach being adopted by the government is little short of disastrous. For those of us - and there are many in your Lordships' House - for whom Europe has been a central theme of our entire political lives, to sit on our hands in the circumstances is both unthinkable and unconscionable."

Lord Hague, Conservative, Remain

"A country cannot go round in circles. Opinion will vary over the next few years. Opinion polls will say that people do not agree with leaving the EU any more, and then, six months later, that they do agree. But we cannot leave the EU in 2017, remain in it in 2018, and leave it again in 2019; by 2020 we will be too confused to know what we are doing. A country cannot go around in circles. A decision was made in the referendum."

Lord Stephens of Ludgate, UKIP, Leave

"Do we really want to remain in the EU for the next two years? Is it worth the risk? Even the poor old International Monetary Fund, which gets practically every forecast wrong - but maybe not this time - says that Greece's debts are on an explosive path and the IMF appears unwilling to fund further bailouts."

Lord Hill of Oareford, former EU Commissioner, Conservative, Remain

"The rest of Europe is not sitting there desperate to take us back. They certainly wanted us to stay, but they have now accepted that we have voted to leave. Their priority is to work out their own future at 27 and not to sit there putting everything on hold, hoping that one day the phone will ring and it will be the British Foreign Secretary saying, 'Sorry, we'd like a different offer' or 'Sorry, we'd like to come back after all'."

Lord Mandelson, Labour, Remain

"[The government Brexit plan] is not what a lot of leave supporters backed when they voted in the referendum. Yes, they wanted to leave the European Union but they did not want to turn Britain into a poorer, politically isolated offshore tax haven without reach or influence in the world. Once they see the consequences, they may, I stress may, want to think again about the outcome of the government's chosen path."

Lord Lawson, Conservative, chair of Vote Leave

"We have to be realistic: ​the only common ground, and thus the only practicable outcome, is no trade deal. That is no disaster: there is no greater nonsense than the claim that, in the absence of a trade agreement with the EU, we shall be falling off a cliff edge. There is no cliff edge, for the simple reason that there is no cliff. In the absence of a trade agreement with the EU we shall continue to trade with our former partners, but on WTO terms."

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Conservative, Leave

"The judgment of the Supreme Court required the government to obtain parliamentary authority for the notification of the UK's withdrawal from the EU under Article 50. That is all this bill is about, nothing more, nothing less. It will achieve that policy objective and nothing more. It is closely drawn and narrow in scope. It is our duty to pass it quickly and without amendment."

Lord Whitty, Labour, Remain

"I do not want my name recorded as supporting the removal of my country from a European Union which, for all its imperfections and its failings, is the best hope for peace, prosperity, security and justice on a continent that has been scarred by war and oppression through previous centuries."

Lord Darling of Roulanish, Labour, Remain

"The leavers did not expect to win and the remainers thought they would, and the result was that there was no plan B waiting to be taken down. That is why we get the impression that the government over the last few months have been very much making up matters on the hoof and why we have a White Paper which must be the thinnest government publication I have ever seen."

Lord Low of Dalston, Crossbench, Remain

"We do not normally vote at second or even third Reading in this House but if we ​do, I will vote against the bill. In the nearest I get to blogging, my Christmas round robin, I said that I was in favour of a second referendum on the terms of withdrawal once negotiated and would take every opportunity to vote against moves to remove us from the European Union, partly because the vote to leave was won on a fraudulent prospectus and partly out of sheer bloody-mindedness."

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, Crossbench, Remain

"The fact is that Article 50...is not an expulsion procedure. We remain full members of the European Union throughout the negotiating period, the two years or its extension. If, having looked into the abyss, we were to change our minds about withdrawal, we certainly could and no one in Brussels could stop us."

Baroness O'Loan, Crossbench, Remain

"Brexit will recreate the border between the north and the south [of Ireland]. Borders are by their nature divisive, and this border will attract protest, hostility, violence and significant economic delay. Other borders across Europe will also create delays for those who seek to export from the United Kingdom into Europe but, ironically, the border could be the thing that precipitates the demand for another referendum on a united Ireland, which is provided for in the Good Friday agreement."

Viscount Ridley, Conservative, Leave

"The British people have decided to leave the European Union. The Commons has passed this Bill unamended. We, in this House, pride ourselves on scrutinising and revising bills, but what is there to scrutinise? What is there to revise?"