Lords EU Committee says government is 'frustrating' its work

By Sophie Morris
BBC Parliament

  • Published

The Budget has dominated parliamentary proceedings over the last few days, but peers in the House of Lords have provided a snapshot of what is to come as eyes return firmly to Brexit next week.

The chairman of the Lords EU select committee has accused the government of "frustrating the committee's work" by "keeping peers and MPs in the dark" on Brexit plans.

His remarks follow Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab's announcement last week that he will not give evidence to the Lords EU committee until after a deal has been finalised with the EU, an issue peers have complained about before.

Image source, Hol
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EU Committee Chair Lord Boswell accuses the government of "frustrating" its work

In a private notice question on Wednesday, Chairman of the EU Select Committee Lord Boswell asked Brexit Minister Lord Callanan whether there will be sufficient time for parliamentary scrutiny of the EU withdrawal agreement before it is debated.

Under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, select committees must consider and report on the text of any UK-EU withdrawal agreement in time to inform the parliamentary debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords.

Brexit Minister Lord Callanan assured Lord Boswell that the government is "committed to facilitating the committee's scrutiny of the withdrawal agreement".

Lord Boswell called for the government "to engage constructively with the committees" and "not to refuse to give evidence as Mr Raab has done".

He described the "extraordinary situation" when the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier "is informing MEPs almost daily on plans and sharing draft texts when select committees in Westminster are kept in the dark", an opinion echoed by both Labour and Liberal Democrat peers.

Lord Callanan said that MEPs "do not have access to any more information than Parliament do", noting that peers received "extensive detail of the withdrawal agreement in March".

Image source, House of Lords
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Brexit Minister Lord Callanan disagrees that MEPs have more knowledge of Brexit plans

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Newby intervened to inform the minister that it was the EU Commission, not the government who had released information in March.

The Brexit minister reminded peers that Dominic Raab has appeared in front of committees no less than 10 times in the nine sitting weeks since his appointment as Brexit Secretary.

However, when asked by Conservative peer Lord Bridges whether the government had pencilled in a deadline day for Parliament receiving a copy of the withdrawal agreement, Lord Callanan could not provide a date.

Lord Bridges - himself a former Brexit minister - expressed concern that peers will not have enough time to scrutinise the agreement, as the government is obligated under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to provide 21 sitting days to scrutinise a treaty.

Labour peers Lord Liddle and Lord Tunnicliffe accused the minister of not understanding the severity of the situation and showing "no attempt to involve Parliament in any plans", and demanded the government "come clean" with agreed details of the deal.

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Lord Bridges says Parliament need 21 days to scrutinise deal

On the other side, Conservative peer Lord Tebbit said the government is doing "an honest job" while "Michel Barnier is mucking the place about with no intention of coming to an agreement" with the UK.

Summing up the exchange, Brexit Minister Lord Callanan said he "disagrees strongly" that the March deadline will not be achieved, and the government is "committed to providing as much information as possible".

More heated Brexit exchanges can certainly be expected in both the Commons and the Lords this month, as the EU has suggested November is the latest a deal could be finalised.