The House of Lords has examined the EU Withdrawal Bill, and it is fair to say that as a whole, they did not like what they saw. The upper chamber has asked for no fewer than fourteen amendments to the Bill. These are:
– No repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 until the government has told Parliament what steps it has taken to negotiate the UK’s participation in a customs union with the EU.
– EU law relating to employment and equality rights, health and safety protections, and consumer and environmental standards not to be altered by ministerial fiat.
– The EU charter of fundamental rights will remain in force.
– Individuals retain rights to challenge validity of EU law after Brexit.
– Limits on ministerial powers to alter EU law incorporated into UK law.
– No amendments to Scotland and Wales acts by ministerial fiat.
– Changes to UK law in order to comply with international obligations must be made through an act of Parliament.
– Parliament must approve the withdrawal agreement and transitional measures in an Act of Parliament, before the European parliament has debated and voted on this. Also gives the Commons (but not the Lords) the power to decide the next steps for the government if the deal is rejected.
– No secondary legislation to implement the withdrawal agreement until a mandate for negotiations about the UK’s future relationship with the EU has been agreed by Parliament.
– Protects cooperation north and south of the Irish border after Brexit and prevents the establishment of new border arrangements without mutual agreement.
– Temporary restrictions on the power of devolved assemblies to legislate in certain devolved areas after Brexit. This is disputed by the Scottish parliament.
– Protects UK membership of EU agencies such as Euratom.
– Removes the exit date from the face of the Bill.
– Negotiates a deal that allows continued membership of the EEA.
– MPs given greater power over secondary legislation, with peers defeating the government on scrutiny of statutory instruments.
The Bill will now be returned to the Commons, for MPs to consider the changes that the Lords’ have asked for.
We understand that the vote on these Amendments will go ahead in the Commons on 12 June, and that the government’s whips are currently working furiously to make sure that Tory MPs vote in the right way. The key question is what position Labour will take. Many Labour MPs are no doubt sympathetic to the aims of the Peers. But they also represent many constituencies which voted for Brexit in the referendum. Being seen to “block Brexit” would be bad for some, though not all, Labour MPs.
If the government cannot count on significant Opposition support, it will need to rally support from almost all Tory and DUP MPs in order to avoid a further delay in the legislation. It is a crucial test of Parliament’s mood, and Tory MPs willingness to support Ms May’s version of Brexit. The 12th of June may prove to be a decisive date for the leadership of Theresa May.