Expert View

Crushing government defeat in Lords should inspire MPs

by David Hannay | 29.01.2019

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

The role of the House of Lords in the current, seemingly endless, cycle of Brexit debates and votes in both Houses of Parliament is to provide the warm-up act to the Commons the following day. So it was this Monday, with the government going down in the Lords to another crushing defeat of 152 votes by a cross-party group of Labour, Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and cross-benchers. The critical votes, in the Commons, will take place later today.

A “no deal” Brexit has few friends in the Lords. There are a few lonely spirits on the government benches who seem to think it would be jolly good fun and an invigorating icy shower to revive the national psyche. They simply discount the warnings of leaders of the aerospace and car industries and the main food retailers that it would inflict serious damage on businesses and hundreds of thousands of workers.

It was in any case a mystery as to why the government felt the need to oppose a motion which did no more than call on them to “take all appropriate steps to ensure that the UK does not leave the EU without an agreement”, thus recognising that it was not entirely in the government’s gift single-handedly to avoid that outcome.

But apparently the mere threat of no deal is still regarded as the “open sesame” to an Aladdin’s cave of EU concessions, on the Irish backstop in particular, if and when the prime minister re-enters the negotiating fray in Brussels. We shall see. But this assumption does fly in the face of everything being said by the EU negotiators.

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And it was equally a mystery as to why the government felt the need to oppose a call to provide “sufficient time to ensure the timely passage of legislation to implement any deal or proposition that has commanded the support of a majority in the House of Commons”.

Of course anyone who can do simple arithmetic can calculate that such work cannot now be compressed into the period remaining before March 29, especially when shortened by the time the prime minister will need to negotiate further in Brussels. This points towards a prolongation of the Article 50 period beyond March 29. This reality cannot now, with any credibility, be ducked for more than a few days longer.

What does all this portend for the way ahead? Well, much will depend on those votes in the Commons later today and on the reactions in Brussels. But it is very clear that there is a substantial majority in the Lords for ruling out a no deal outcome. There would be majority support too for any move by the government to seek a prolongation of the Article 50 period beyond March 29. The idea that the Lords might filibuster either of these courses of action is fanciful. The Lords is a self-regulating House which is quite capable of ensuring that does not happen.

When next the Brexit imbroglio returns to the Lords, the option of returning to the electorate as the best way, perhaps the only way, of cutting the Gordian knot is likely to be more prominent. But that will be a story for another day.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

Tags: , Categories: UK Politics

2 Responses to “Crushing government defeat in Lords should inspire MPs”

  • David Cameron stood on one side of the Brexit debate .
    On the other side stood Nigel Farage et Al
    The major part of the leave vote came from those areas of the country
    most affected by David Cameron’s kicking I put it to you
    the people were voting against David Cameron Hobson’s choice without the
    happy ending that we all know cannot be delivered.

    Brexit is the crime of the century and I am suspicious (oil )
    We hope Parliament may yet save us .

  • I emailed my MP, Bob Stewart, expressing my view that he should support taking No Deal off the table. He replied somewhat pompously that he knew enough about negotiations that it was always a bad idea to take something off the table with nothing from the other side. I pointed out that tactics suited to the poker table are not appropriate when the welfare of millions of UK and other EU citizens is at stake. He has yet to respond.