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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to lose more votes on his Brexit Bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday, but his commanding victory in last month’s general election means his plan to take the U.K. out of the European Union on Jan. 31 won’t be derailed.
The government was defeated in three votes in the unelected upper chamber on Monday night — including on amendments relating to documentation for EU residents and the way British courts will deal with EU case law after Brexit — and is facing further defeats before the bill passes back to the elected House of Commons this week.
Prior to the Dec. 12 election, when Johnson led a minority Conservative government, votes in the Lords held considerable weight in the lower chamber. Now that’s he’s armed with an 80-seat majority in the Commons, any changes to legislation demanded by peers will effectively be put forward to the lower chamber in an advisory capacity. The Tories don’t have a majority in the upper chamber.
“It surely isn’t too much to ask” for the government “to think again,” John Thomas, a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, told fellow Lords on Tuesday as he introduced an amendment — a clear indication of just how much the political landscape has changed.
Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, was forced to make a series of concessions to the Lords as she fought to get her Brexit deal through Parliament. She accepted amendments, including one that peers will vote on again on Tuesday which seeks to ensure that unaccompanied refugee children still have the right to join their families in the U.K. after it leaves the EU.
“We’re not planning to accept any amendments” when the legislation returns to the Commons, Johnson’s spokesman James Slack told reporters when asked about the Lords’ votes.
Johnson’s victory has effectively curtailed the power of the Lords to block legislation because convention dictates that proposed bills or policies included in the winning party’s election manifesto should be allowed to pass. The Tory campaign was dominated by Johnson’s pledge to “Get Brexit Done,” leaving little doubt voters knew his intention.
The government’s Brexit legislation — including amendments made by the Lords — will return to the Commons, where they are likely to be removed before the bill returns to the upper house for approval. This so-called ping-pong process continues until the Lords back down, or until the Commons invokes the Parliament Act and uses Johnson’s majority to force through the bill without peers’ consent.
Given that would spark a constitutional clash, it’s unlikely the Lords will seek to amend Johnson’s bill when it comes back.
Meanwhile Alf Dubbs, the Labour peer who introduced the amendment to protect refugee children, said he doesn’t trust government promises that future legislation will cover his concerns.
“Ministers have said to me this is a matter of trust,” Dubs told the House of Lords on Tuesday. “I trust individual ministers, but I don’t trust the government as a whole.”
With Johnson’s majority, the new reality is sinking in.
–With assistance from Jessica Shankleman.
To contact the reporter on this story: Thomas Penny in London at [email protected]
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at [email protected], Stuart Biggs, Alex Morales
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