Theresa May’s plans for Brexit have been dealt a fresh blow as peers inflicted a heavy defeat on the UK Government in a move aimed at ensuring Parliament has the final say on any deal struck with Brussels.
The UK Government said it would now “consider the implications” of the Lords defeat, claiming it would weaken the Prime Minister’s hand in negotiations with the European Union and could even give MPs the power to delay Brexit indefinitely.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the Lords vote was a “hugely significant moment” and would help to avoid the risk of crashing out of the EU without a deal.
Peers backed an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by 335 to 244, majority 91, to give Parliament a decisive say on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, including in the event of a no-deal scenario.
Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine and ex-ministers Lord Patten of Barnes and Lord Willetts were among 19 Tory rebels.
Brexit Minister Lord Callanan said: “We are disappointed that the House of Lords has voted for this amendment in spite of the assurances we have provided.”
“What this amendment would do is weaken the UK’s hand in our negotiations with the EU by giving Parliament unprecedented powers to instruct the Government to do anything with regard to the negotiations – including trying to keep the UK in the EU indefinitely.”
“It is absolutely right that Parliament is able to scrutinise the final deal, and that is why we have already committed to giving both Houses a vote on the final deal.”
“We will now consider the implications of the House of Lords’ decision.”
Sir Keir urged the Prime Minister to accept the cross-party amendment, warning that there was “no majority in Parliament for a no-deal Brexit”.
He said: “If Parliament votes down the Article 50 deal, then Parliament must decide what happens next.”
“Under no circumstances can the Prime Minister be given a blank cheque to crash the UK out of the EU without a deal.”
Lord Newby, the Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, said the Government’s defeat on the issue “puts Parliament in the driving seat”.
He said: “Brexit is the most important decision facing the country for a generation and it is vital that Parliament – not the Government – decides whether or not any Brexit deal is acceptable.”
Crossbench peer Lord Malloch-Brown, chairman of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, said: “This feels like a turning point. This is a massive defeat for the Government.”