Trade Minister Slams ‘Unelected’ Lords Voting to Block ‘Will of the People’

Liam Fox Brexit
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty

The “unelected” House of Lords is out to block “the democratic will of the people”, the International Trade Secretary has said, after Peers voted to give Parliament the power to stop the divorce.

The amendment, known as Clause 49, would mean MPs could stop the government from leaving the European Union (EU) without a deal if they also reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal, forcing them to return to the negotiating table.

If it comes into force, it will “tie the hands” of the government, critics say, and could result in Brexit being thwarted altogether, as MPs overwhelmingly back remaining inside the bloc — against the wishes of the British people.

Lord Hailsham, who introduced the amendment, told peers ahead of the vote that the Brexit referendum was “at best” an “interim decision” and the people’s decision should be “tested” in a second vote.

His amendment was passed by a majority of 91 on Monday, and follows a House of Lords vote to keep the UK in the Customs Union, and represents the seventh Brexit defeat for the government.

Crossbencher Lord Bilimoria went further, openly stating that the purpose of the amendment was to give MPs the “ability to stop the train crash that is Brexit”.

Trade secretary Liam Fox hit back Tuesday, saying: “I think there’s a very big debate now about whether the unelected house can actually thwart the view of the British electorate in a referendum and… legislation coming from the House of Commons.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he conceded that gaining enough votes in a hung parliament would be difficult.

“We don’t have a parliamentary majority, and that makes life harder, but there are of course quite a number of Labour MPs who represent seats where there is a very heavy vote in favour of leaving… who I think are rash, to say the least, if they try to confront the democratic view of the British people.”

Mr. Fox also dismissed the idea of trying to tie the UK to a customs union, and so handing the EU continued control of the UK’s trade policy.

“I don’t think there is a customs union that could ever be acceptable,” he added, calling the possibility of some sort of union “null and void”.

During the Lords debate on Monday, Liberal Democrat Lord Roberts compared the powers requested by the government to implement Brexit to Adolf Hitler’s 1933 Enabling Act.

“That Enabling Bill transferred the democratic right from the parliament into the hands of one man, the chancellor,” he said. “And his name was Adolf Hitler.”

Steve Baker, the Brexit Minister, slammed the claims as “disgraceful, irresponsible… over the top nonsense” adding that the comparison showed how “how moribund their arguments are”.

He also explained to BBC News that the amendment handed Parliament “unprecedented powers to direct the government in these negotiations… even keeping the UK in the EU indefinitely”.

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