Lords urged to support Brexit bill after MPs vote

London: Legislation empowering Prime Minister Theresa May to start Brexit negotiations moves to Britain’s House of Lords — with ministers urging peers to do their “patriotic duty” and back it.
MPs in parliament’s lower chamber, the House of Commons, overwhelmingly backed the bill late Wednesday to allow May to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which she has promised to do by the end of March.
Downing Street played down a warning by an unnamed government source that the unelected second chamber could face abolition if it stands in the way of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
But Brexit minister David Davis told Sky News: “I expect it to do its job and to do its patriotic duty and actually give us the right to go on and negotiate that new relationship (with the EU).”
The source had earlier told journalists that the Lords, which many believe has long been ripe for reform, “will face an overwhelming public call to be abolished if they now try and frustrate this bill”.
May’s Conservative party does not have a majority in the House of Lords, raising the possibility that peers may seek to block Brexit.
However, the opposition Labour leader in the chamber, Baroness Angela Smith, said in October that she would not be obstructive. “We will scrutinise; we will examine; we will not block,” she said.
Britain’s upper house, with 805 members, is the second-largest parliamentary chamber in the world, beaten only by China’s National People’s Congress.
Late Wednesday, lawmakers voted 494 to 122 in favour of legislation giving May the right to trigger Brexit, ending days of intense debate. The bill now needs the approval of the upper chamber, in which May does not have a majority, before it becomes law.
The victory marks a significant step towards starting what is expected to be a complex and difficult two-year negotiation with the EU on issues such as trade, immigration and security that will redraw Britain’s role in the world.
“We’ve seen a historic vote tonight,” said Brexit minister David Davis on Wednesday. “A big majority for getting on with negotiating our exit from the EU and a strong, new partnership with its member states.”
After surviving a minor rebellion from within May’s Conservative Party that had threatened to undermine her authority and negotiating strategy, the law was passed without amendment and on schedule.
That raised expectations that the bill will enjoy an equally smooth passage in the unelected House of Lords, when its journey there begins in earnest on Feb. 20. The government wants to complete the legislative process by March 7.
Sources close to discussions in the upper chamber said they expected peers to keep pushing for parliament to have more say during the negotiating process. One source said that could mean a one-week delay to the law’s final approval, but neither expected the process to endanger May’s end of March deadline.
 — AFP/Reuters

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