Unelected peers in the House of Lords could delay the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union (EU) for up to a year by rejecting the bill which authorises the government to activate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal mechanism for beginning the Brexit process.
The Daily Mirror claims that all 104 Liberal Democrat peers plan to vote against the Article 50 bill currently navigating its way through the House of Commons, and that only 30 rebel Conservatives will have to join them for it to be sent back to MPs for reconsideration.
While the House of Lords is described as the ‘Upper House’ and has the power to introduce as well as amend legislation, it is in practice junior to the elected House of Commons, serving primarily as a revising chamber.
When members of the House of Commons are determined to have a piece of legislation the House of Lords will not agree to, it can be forced past them under the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 – but this can take up to a year, which would sabotage the government’s Brexit timetable.
Tory peers who might be expected to join the Liberal Democrats in opposing the Article 50 bill include Baroness (Patience) Wheatcroft, who insists that “the referendum was only advisory” and that, “faced with potential calamity”, it is her colleagues’ job “to ask the government to think again”.
“The Commons may be cowed by the narrow majority of the referendum”, she wrote in August 2016, “but, on this vital matter, I believe the Lords should urge caution”.
Lord Newby, who leads the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, has called on Tories like Baroness Wheatcroft to join him in challenging Theresa May’s decision to take Britain out of the so-called Single Market, which underpins the unlimited and largely unvetted Free Movement immigration system which operates throughout the EU.
The Article 50 bill already faces of 146 pages of “wrecking amendments” tabled by Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Scottish Nationalist MPs in the House of Commons. It is reported that up to twenty-seven Tories, led by veteran europhile Ken Clarke, may support them.
Theresa May has a Commons majority of just sixteen.