- House of Lords begin two week debate on whether to pass or amend the Brexit bill
- If passed Theresa May will have power to trigger Article 50
- Peers have submitted more than a dozen amendments
- Lords want to force ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit deal
- EU citizens could be guaranteed rights
LONDON — The House of Lords will on Monday begin a two day debate on whether they should block Article 50 — the two year process by which Britain will leave the EU.
Is there any chance they will vote against it?
Not really. The Lords are normally reluctant to vote down any legislation that has been passed by the House of Commons, particularly when the Commons have not even amended that legislation. Couple that with the firestorm that any vote against Brexit would cause and the chances of peers rejecting this bill look vanishingly slim to nonexistent.
So it’s all done then?
Hold on a second, they’re not finished yet. The Lords have submitted more than a dozen amendments to the bill, including eight from Labour’s frontbench. Given that the government doesn’t have a majority in the Lords there is a good chance that at least one of these amendments will pass when peers vote on them next week.
What are they?
The amendments cover similar ground to those submitted and voted down by MPs earlier this month. They include calls for the government to regularly update Parliament on the progress of negotiations, calls to retain single market membership and calls to hold a second referendum. All of these are likely to fail. However two amendments — a call for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK to be guaranteed and a call for a commitment to allow Parliament a final ‘meaningful vote’ on Theresa May’s Brexit deal — have a much greater chance of passing.
What’s a ‘meaningful vote’ mean?
Labour want to force the government to commit to a parliamentary vote on whatever draft Brexit deal she secures, before it is sent for ratification by the European Parliament. The government have already promised such a vote, however they have made clear that any vote against would simply lead to the UK falling out of the EU without a deal. It would be a ‘deal or no deal’ vote and would not force May to renegotiate a new deal. Labour aren’t satisfied with this.
So what happens if any of the Lords’ amendments pass?
The bill would then pass back to the House of Commons where MPs would debate and vote on the Lords’ amendments. Given that the Commons have already rejected an almost identical set of amendments it is highly unlikely that they would change their mind and decide to accept these. They would therefore reject the amendments and the bill would then pass back to the Lords where potentially this game of ping pong would continue.
So peers could hold up Brexit indefinitely?
Technically yes. Practically no. The shadow leader of the House of Lords, Angela Smith has already stated that there will be no “extended ping pong” between the houses, telling the BBC that Labour did not want to “frustrate” the triggering of Article 50 – currently tabled to happen before the end of March. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a certain amount of back and forth. Labour peer Lord Mandelson told Andrew Marr on Sunday that while “the House of Commons must prevail… I hope [they] will not throw in the towel early.”
So it’s all for show?
Quite probably yes. If the Lords do amend the bill then it will cause much huffing and puffing on Fleet Street, including more off-the-record Downing Street briefings about scrapping the Lords, but ultimately the Brexit bill is still highly likely to pass with enough time for Theresa May to fulfil her Article 50 timetable.
What happens then?
That’s when the real fun begins. Britain will immediately begin it’s negotiations with the other 27 EU countries about our future relationship together. The British government is keen to begin negotiations on trade and transitional arrangement straight away, however many other EU leaders want to leave those until after the thorny issue of Britain’s divorce bill of up to €60 billion is settled.
Whatever happens, the UK will only have 18 months or so before the deal will have to go for ratification. And that’s if they even have one. If no deal is secured, Britain would automatically fall out of the EU on WTO terms. After that point Britain would either embark on a glorious journey o the sunlit uplands of a bright new prosperous post-EU future, or begin its descent into becoming a post-industrial tax haven vassal state of Donald Trump. It all depends on your point of view.
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