U.K.'s May Faces Lords Defeat Over Vote on Final Brexit Deal

  • Peers set to rewrite May’s law, force Commons to think again
  • Premier in battle for power to trigger Article 50 this month

British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Photographer: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May faces a new setback in her effort to trigger Brexit as lawmakers demand more power to shape the final deal she reaches with the European Union.

The House of Lords is set to defeat May in a vote on Tuesday, re-writing her draft law to guarantee a parliamentary veto if the deal she makes is not considered good enough. Lawmakers would also be able to stop May walking away from talks with no deal under the amendment, which the unelected upper house is expected to pass during its scrutiny of the bill.

Read about why Brexit’s detour through Parliament is important.

“I have said all along that we would not block Brexit, while reserving our right to challenge and scrutinize any legislation put before us,” said Angela Smith, the opposition Labour Party’s leader in the Lords. May’s government could face new court challenges if Parliament is not “properly engaged in the process” of shaping the Brexit deal, she said.

May is vulnerable to a defeat in the Lords because the 252 Conservative members are outnumbered by Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent, or “crossbench,” peers. She overcame a first hurdle shortly before 1:30 p.m., when peers rejected a Liberal Democrat proposal for a referendum on the eventual Brexit agreement.

Trigger Opposition

In response to that vote, Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron told reporters his party will vote against invoking Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, the official trigger for Brexit talks. The party issued a statement saying it has proposed a new amendment to deny the bill passage to the next legislative stage in the House of Lords.

Other amendments up for discussion include one calling for the government to provide quarterly updates to Parliament on the Brexit negotiations, another seeking to guarantee the rights of people in Northern Ireland to claim Irish citizenship, and two seeking Parliamentary votes on the final Brexit deal. Peers last week defeated May with another amendment on the rights of EU citizens.

The amendment to guarantee a meaningful vote is almost certain to win support in spite of the government’s opposition. This is because it has the backing of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and rebels in May’s ruling Conservative Party, including former Cabinet minister Douglas Hogg.

All you need to know about Theresa May’s Brexit vision right here.

May’s team argues that giving legislators the power to veto the final Brexit deal and send the premier back to the negotiating table to ask for something better would undermine her.

Divorce Timetable

She wants the 137-word draft to go through Parliament without changes so she can formally kick off divorce proceedings by her self-imposed deadline of March 31. May is likely to ask the lower house to delete the Lords’ amendments when the bill returns there March 13. Her spokesman, James Slack, told reporters on Tuesday that the premier is “absolutely” on course to officially trigger Brexit negotiations by the end of March.

The government says the amendment would give European leaders a strong reason to offer Britain the worst possible agreement in order to try to stop the country leaving.

“Parliament has to respect the will of the British people,” Slack said on Monday. “We should not commit to any process that would give the EU an incentive to offer us a bad deal.”

Ministers have already promised to give Parliament a vote on whether to accept the final Brexit deal, but Slack confirmed that this would be no more than “a vote on whether we accept the deal or leave without the deal.”

— With assistance by Thomas Penny, and Robert Hutton

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