UK Politics

Brexit bill: Howard says Lords trying to get veto

Lord Howard Image copyright House of Lords

A former Conservative leader has accused the House of Lords of trying to secure a "veto" over Brexit.

Lord Howard criticised attempts to change the government's Brexit bill to ensure Parliament gets to approve any deal struck by Theresa May with the EU.

But ex-deputy PM Lord Heseltine said Parliament should be "the ultimate custodian of our national sovereignty".

The government faces defeat when Lords vote later on amending the bill, but any changes could be reversed by MPs.

No 10 has assured Parliament it will get a say on the outcome of the two year Brexit talks, with the implication that the UK would leave the EU without any deal if Parliament voted against whatever had been negotiated.

But opponents want to be able to vote to reject any deal done and ask Mrs May to go back and get a better one - the amendment does this by saying that there would have to be Parliamentary approval before the UK could leave the EU without any deal.

Presenting the amendment, crossbench peer Lord Pannick said Parliament's role should be "written into the bill - no ifs, no buts".

The amendment would require the explicit approval of Parliament before Mrs May could conclude any deal on leaving the EU or establishing a new relationship.

It would also require the approval of both Houses of Parliament if the PM wants to the leave the EU without a deal in place.

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Media captionLord Forsyth says the government has committed to give Parliament a vote on a Brexit deal.

Lord Heseltine backed the change, saying he "deeply" regretted the referendum result. People who voted to stay in the EU "have the right to be heard", he said, adding: "The fightback starts here."

The amendment, he said, "secures in law the government's commitment to ensure that Parliament is the ultimate custodian of our national sovereignty".

But Lord Howard said the proposed changes to the bill would give the House of Lords a veto over the prime minister's ability to implement the referendum result.

And another ex-Tory minister, Lord Forsyth, described it as "a clever lawyer's confection in order to reverse the result of the referendum".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The prime minister wants to begin formal talks by the end of the month

Earlier, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned holding a second EU referendum would deepen divisions over Brexit.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby said a "national reconciliation" was needed.

Defending his party's call for a second referendum, Lib Dem Lords leader Lord Newby said his party was not "sidelining Parliament" with its bid to amend the draft legislation.

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Media captionSecond referendum would 'add to divisions', Justin Welby tells peers

But he said not offering people the chance to vote on the UK's exit terms would create "widespread and justified anger which would be corrosive to our national life in many years to come".

Without a commitment to a second vote, the Lib Dems say they will oppose the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill at third reading later on Tuesday although Lord Newby conceded that peers as a whole were likely to approve the bill, which will give Theresa May the power to begin official Brexit talks.

The archbishop said he understood the "good intentions" behind the Lib Dem amendment, but said: "Holding another referendum will add to our divisions."

Divisions are not something to be "navigated around" but need to be "healed", he said, adding: "This feels like the most divided country I have lived in in my lifetime."

The Lib Dem amendment calling for a second referendum was comfortably defeated, by 336 votes to 131.

The party has a far stronger presence in the House of Lords - with 102 peers - than in the Commons, where they have just nine MPs.

Repeal bill

Leader Tim Farron acknowledged there was a "great irony" in the Lib Dems, who want to abolish the House of Lords, making use of their peers, but said: "You use the system that's in front of you."

But speaking during the Lords debate, UKIP's Lord Pearson said that if the Lib Dems used their numerical advantage "to vote down the will of the British people... they will reveal their contempt for democracy".

Meanwhile, the prime minister has been warned not to use her proposed Great Repeal Bill to avoid full parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit process.

The Great Repeal Bill will scrap the 1972 European Communities Act, which paved the way for the UK to enter the then-EEC, ending the legal authority of EU law.

It will also transpose EU regulations into domestic law, crucially allowing them to be altered or removed after Brexit.

Senior peers on the House of Lords Constitution Committee said Mrs May must not use the legislation to "pick and choose" which elements of European law she wanted to scrap or alter without Parliament's full involvement.

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