Brexit bills goes to UK upper house

Theresa MayThe House of Lords is the last hurdle facing Theresa May before Brexit talks can begin

Peers are to begin debating the bill paving the way for the start of Brexit.

MPs have already backed the proposed law authorising Theresa May to inform the EU of the UK’s intention to leave.

But the government does not have a majority in the House of Lords where a record 190 peers are due to speak, with a number of amendments put forward.

Opposition and crossbench peers are seeking guarantees about the rights of EU citizens in Britain and the role of parliament in scrutinising the process.

Mrs May has said she wants to invoke Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty – the formal two-year mechanism by which a state must leave the EU – by the end of March.

The government has set aside five days of debate in total for the various stages of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – starting with its Second Reading, when the Lords will debate the general principles of the bill.

It is the Second Reading debate which starts at 15:30 GMT on Monday and is due to conclude on Tuesday evening – possibly with a vote, but only if peers break with their usual practice of allowing government legislation through unopposed at this stage.

Although amendments are not voted on at this stage, speeches will be closely watched for signs of the mood of peers on the two key ones of parliament having a “final meaningful vote” on the draft Brexit agreement – and guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in the UK.


House of Lords

-Political correspondent

Peers will not block Brexit. But nor are they likely to wave this bill through without asking the Commons to think again about a number of issues.

Peers are certainly keen to have their say in this week’s two-day debate.

The committee stage scrutiny – and possible votes – will come the week after.

And with many non-party cross-benchers in the picture the government cannot be certain of defeating all the changes peers will be pushing for. That would mean the Commons could have to consider the bill again.

However, there is no sign the unelected Lords want to go into battle with MPs and the government over Brexit – or meddle with the referendum’s mandate.

Labour has said it will not frustrate Theresa May’s plan to trigger the start of Brexit by the end of next month.

The list of likely speakers includes former chancellors Lord Lawson, Lord Lamont and Lord Darling, former foreign secretaries Lord Hague and Lord Owen and former Cabinet Secretaries Lord O’Donnell, Lord Butler and Lord Armstrong.

Others expected to contribute include former UKIP leader Lord Pearson and Lord Pannick, the QC who led the successful legal challenge against the government, culminating in the Supreme Court ruling that the prior approval of Parliament was needed before Article 50 was invoked.

Detailed scrutiny of the bill at committee stage is due to take place on 27 February and 1 March. If the bill is not amended, then it could theoretically be approved by the Lords at Third Reading on 7 March, becoming law shortly afterwards.

If peers do make changes to the bill, it would put them on a collision course with MPs – who overwhelmingly passed the bill unaltered and would be expected to overturn any Lords amendments.

Speaking on Sunday, former Labour cabinet minister Lord Mandelson urged peers to show “courage” and not wave the bills through without debate.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss said she expected the unelected second chamber to respect the “will of the people” expressed in last year’s referendum.

But Lord Hain, a former Northern Ireland Secretary, maintains he has a mandate to seek changes despite being an unelected peer.

He said: “I was appointed by my party. And in the referendum, two thirds of Labour electors voted to Remain. I don’t deny they won, or that the outcome has to be respected. But what about the 48% who voted Remain?”

Although the Conservatives have the largest number of peers in the Lords, with 252 members, they are vulnerable to being outvoted if opposition peers – including 202 Labour peers and 102 Lib Dems – join forces.

Much will hinge of the actions of the 178 crossbenchers in the Lords – who are not aligned to any party and do not take a party whip.

Once Article 50 is invoked, there will be up to two years of talks on the terms of the UK’s departure and its future relationship with the EU unless all 28 member states agree to extend the deadline.

Brexit bill flow chart

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