Pro-remain Liberal Democrat peers believe they could insert extra clauses into even the most tightly worded Brexit bill to force Theresa May to tell parliament more about her negotiating plans before she triggers article 50…
Constitutional experts have told the Lib Dems there is no obstacle to adding extra clauses to such legislation, which could force the government to publish a white paper detailing how it plans to approach talks with the other EU member-states – and even offer voters a second referendum.
In a statement, four Lib Dem peers who are also QCs – including Menzies Campbell and Alex Carlile – said: “We welcome the acceptance that a parliamentary bill is likely to be needed. We shall use parliamentary procedure to ensure that the act of parliament that emerges ensures that the government has to have regard to MPs’ and peers’ reasonable expectations of the negotiation process.” [The Guardian]
There is a double political significance of this move by Liberal Democrat peers. First, no one party has an overall majority in the House of Lords, which means votes are not the usually-forgone-conclusion that they are in the Commons. Second, if a government loses in the Lords and wishes to undo the changes to a bill in the Common, that will bring into stark relief the splits in Labour over its European policy. Jeremy Corbyn (rather an enthusiast for Britain leaving Europe over the years) trying to get Labour MPs to follow him into the voting lobbies to back Theresa May would be interesting, to say the least.
Just as with Europe in the 1970s and early 1980s, it could again therefore be the issue which powers realignment within the British political system. That would be a challenge for the Liberal Democrats in all sorts of ways – including whether the party has really learnt the lessons of 2010-15 and starts to act once more as a broader campaigning organisation rather than simply as a vehicle for trying to attain office.