Theresa May’s plans for Brexit have been dealt further blows as peers inflicted defeats on the Government, potentially giving Parliament a far greater say in the process.
The Government warned that one defeat – giving MPs a decisive final say on the terms of the Brexit deal – would weaken the Prime Minister’s hand in negotiations and could even give Parliament the power to delay the UK’s exit from the European Union indefinitely.
A second defeat saw peers insist that Parliament should be given a say on the Government’s mandate for trade talks with Brussels while a third was aimed at making sure refugees in Europe would continue to be allowed to join family members in the UK.
It would spell the end of the “take it or leave it” approach promised by ministers, under which the only alternative to accepting a deal thrashed out by Mrs May and Brussels would be the UK leaving without a deal.
Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine and ex-ministers Lord Patten of Barnes and Lord Willetts were among 19 Tory rebels to support the cross-party amendment.
Brexit Minister Lord Callanan said: “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.”
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer 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.”
Senior Tory backbencher Sarah Wollaston said Brexiteers wanted to “take back control” to the UK but “Parliament won’t support a hard Brexit”.
Another significant defeat saw ministers slide to a 37-vote reverse as peers said both Houses of Parliament should approve the Prime Minister’s mandate for the next phase of talks with Brussels, covering the future relationship between the UK and EU.
The Department for Exiting the European Union said: “It is for the Government, not Parliament, to set our goals for the negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU and to conduct them.”
The third defeat of the night – and ninth overall during the Bill’s passage through the Lords – was aimed at maintaining current arrangements on family reunion for refugees.
Government minister Lord Duncan of Springbank insisted the UK was seeking to agree a series of measures to enable unaccompanied children to join close family members in the UK or another member state “whichever is in their best interests” but the existing system was “in many cases not fit for purpose”.
A Liberal Democrat-led call to allow for the option of holding a further referendum on the Brexit deal was defeated, although Labour frontbencher Lord Hunt of Kings Heath backed the move, earning him a dressing down from the chief whip and opposition leader in the Lords.
Brexit Minister Steve Baker said: “If Labour want to be taken seriously as a party which respects the decision the people took in the EU referendum, they must now remove Lord Hunt from their front bench.”