Baroness Patience Wheatcroft made national headlines on Monday by warning that the House of Lords would use its powers to delay a Brexit taking place if the matter was put before parliament.
The Tory peer told the Times newspaper that the unelected house would delay the activation of Article 50 if given the opportunity.
“If it comes to a bill,” Baroness Wheatcroft said, “I think the Lords might actually delay things. I think there’s a majority in the Lords for remaining.”
Article 50 is the piece of EU legislation British government must trigger in order to begin the 2-year process of formally withdrawing from the 28-nation bloc. “It is imperative that we don’t press the button on Article 50,” she added.
Baroness Wheatcroft’s warning will provide yet another headache for Theresa May who is beginning to realise just how difficult delivering a Brexit is going to be. BI has pointed out the many hurdles in the way of Britain leaving the EU following the June 23 referendum.
But how could an unelected chamber which very rarely gets involved in legislative wrestling matches have such a massive influence say in one of Britain’s most important events? Below is an explanation.
How does the House of Lords work?
The House of Lords is one of two legislative chambers which make up UK parliament — the other being the House of Commons. It is sometimes referred to as the “upper house” or the “second chamber.”
Unlike the Commons, the Lords is unelected. All 798 members represent political parties bar the 26 bishops who represent the Church of England. Most of the Lords have been appointed by governments, however, 92 are hereditary peers.
The role of the House of Lords is to scrutinise bills that have been approved by the House of Commons and suggest amendments where deemed necessary. The Lords cannot stop bills being passed into law, but they can delay the process substantially.
How could it delay Brexit?
What Baroness Wheatcroft told the Times could easily happen. In October, the High Court is due to rule whether the Prime Minister Theresa May is required to secure the backing of a parliamentary vote before she invokes Article 50. If the court decides that this is the case, then both houses will have a major say in when Article 50 gets triggered.
In this scenario, the House of Lords could delay Brexit getting underway by rejecting any bill put before parliament which if passed would allow May to trigger Article 50. Even if the Commons is satisfied with the terms of the bill, the Lords could disagree and send it back to the lower chamber for further revision. This would create a state of legislative deadlock which could roll on for weeks or even months, putting the entire Brexit process on hold.
Is this likely?
Baroness Wheatcroft pointed out that the majority of the upper house wanted Britain to remain in the EU prior to the June 23 referendum — but it really is not as simple as that.
Some members are likely to put their personal convictions aside in the name of respecting the will of the people. In fact, an unnamed Labour Lord told the Times that the mood among party peers was “that the decision had been made and it was now for the government to try and get the best deal out of it and then explain its case.”
But, evidently there are those in the house who intend to make the process of Britain leaving the EU as difficult as possible. An unnamed Tory peer told the Times that they believed many “will” delay Article 50. Baroness Wheatcroft added that she was confident peers would defy the whip and vote against any bill being passed.
Right now, it is extremely difficult to say with any accuracy how the Lords would vote in this scenario. What we can say for sure is that the task facing Theresa May is extremely difficult and could take much longer than Leave supporters would have hoped and expected.
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