Brexit Bill Faces Delay With Lords' Amendments, Davis Says

  • May won’t trigger Article 50 at summit, Brexit secretary says
  • Amendments to bill will lead to Lords-Commons ‘ping pong’

Britain’s House of Lords is set to make changes to the bill authorizing Theresa May to trigger withdrawal from the European Union, Brexit Secretary David Davis said, meaning the prime minister is unlikely to start the process at an EU summit on March 9-10.

Any amendments to the draft law by the unelected upper chamber will still allow May to meet her self-imposed deadline of invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March, Davis told reporters in Stockholm, where he held talks Tuesday with Swedish European Affairs Minister Ann Linde.

The Brexit bill gained overwhelming support in the lower House of Commons last week, passing without any change to the wording. But the main opposition Labour Party has now proposed eight new amendments for debate in the Lords, where the government doesn’t have a majority.

The upper house is not due to complete its debate until March 7, two days before the summit. Any amendment would mean a potential delay with the two chambers passing the bill back and forth to reach final agreement.

“I expect the upper house, it will do its job of scrutiny,” Davis said. “We’ll have some passing backwards and forwards, we call it ping pong, you can imagine why, backwards and forwards of the bill, but I expect it to be resolved in good time before the end of March.”

Asked whether the plan was to use the summit in Brussels to trigger Brexit, Davis said: “Ninth, 10th is not a date I recognize in terms of our timetable. What we have said is by the end of March, sometime during March.”

No ‘Sabotage’

The Labour leader in the Lords, Angela Smith, told BBC Television Sunday that the Lords won’t attempt to thwart the government’s timetable or to “sabotage” Brexit, even if amendments are made to the 137-word bill.

“We won’t frustrate, we’re not going to wreck,” Smith said. “There could be amendments asking the Commons to look at things again; that’s what we normally do, it’s not the wrong thing to do.” That shouldn’t lead to “any extended ping pong at all,” she said.

Among amendments being put forward are ones seeking to guarantee the rights of 3 million EU citizens already living in the U.K. and a meaningful vote in Parliament on the outcome of negotiations. Upper-house lawmakers might also seek regular updates from May and more consultations with the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The opposition Liberal Democrat party has also put forward amendments for the debate in the Lords, which starts Monday. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have 304 members of the upper house, compared with 252 Conservatives, out of a total membership of 805.

Mujtaba Rahman, a managing director at Eurasia Group in London, told clients in a report Tuesday that while May is still likely to get her way, it may take longer to achieve, and that the bill won’t pass until around March 15 rather than a week earlier. That would mean invoking Article 50 by the end of March is still possible, he said.

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