Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020

Boris suffers crushing defeat over plan to break international law on Brexit

The Government has suffered defeat in the House of Lords over Brexit legislation that enables ministers to break international law.

Peers backed a ‘regret’ amendment, condemning disputed provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill, by 395 votes to 169, majority 226.

With peers vowing to reject the disputed parts of the UK Internal Market Bill, it sets the scene for a showdown between the unelected chamber and Commons and the likelihood of protracted parliamentary ‘ping pong’, where legislation is passed between the two Houses.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, former Commons speaker Baroness Boothroyd and Conservative former leader Lord Howard of Lympne were among many in the upper house to criticise the Bill, which has already cleared the Commons despite opposition from some senior Tories.

The legislation sets out the way that trade within the UK will work once it is outside the EU’s single market and customs union.

But it also contains powers which gives ministers the opportunity to override the Brexit divorce deal, something the Government has acknowledged would breach international law.

A compromise reached in the Commons to head off a Tory backbench rebellion, which gives MPs a vote before the powers can be used, has been dismissed by some peers.

Speaking in support of the amendment, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Fox said: ‘We all know this Bill is illegal and we know it flouts important constitutional issues and threatens devolution.

‘More than that, we know it has already eroded trust in our institutions and we know it is damaging the reputation of this country, which promotes the rule of law.

‘Finally, and perhaps most insidiously, we know that any law that seeks to permit the executive to break laws is morally wrong.’

Referring to the ‘egregious clauses’ in the Bill, Labour frontbencher Lord Stevenson of Balmacara argued the Government’s ‘pre-emptive action has placed the United Kingdom in the wrong’ and damaged Britain’s ‘international reputation as a defender of the rule of law’.

He added: ‘When the history of these troubled months comes to be written it will not be kind to the current Prime Minister and his Cabinet.’

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