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The latest on the Withdrawal Bill

April 18, 2018 8:01 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

The House of Lords. Image: UK Parliament

Having sat through over 100 hours of debate so far in the House of Lords on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, I have been angered by the combination of arrogance and incompetence which has characterised the Government's response to a very wide range of concerns expressed.

From how we continue to regulate and licence the supply of over-the-counter medicines to working with our European neighbours on security policy; from how to maintain reciprocal roaming charges to protecting our hard-won rights and freedoms, the Government has displayed indifference and the inability to answer the most basic of questions.

In the case of the future of Northern Ireland, the insouciance of the Government seems breathtakingly irresponsible.

There are also many valid criticisms of the technicalities of the Bill itself. The vast extension of ministerial powers, including Henry VIII powers. The disapplication of the Fundamental Charter of Human Rights. The side-lining of the devolved parliament and assemblies.

The Government has displayed indifference and the inability to answer the most basic of questions.

As the Lords now moves to Report Stage, we have the opportunity to change the Bill for the better - to constrain Ministerial powers, to allow Parliament and the people to have the final say on any Brexit deal and to deal with several crucial aspects of Brexit including the position of Northern Ireland and the desirability of remaining in the customs union.

Lib Dems have been working with like-minded colleagues right across the House, from all parties and none to propose significant changes to the Bill.

We have seen that the case we have made on many important issues have had broad support across the chamber. Crucially, we want to stop the ministerial power-grab provided for by this bill.

As the Lords now moves to Report Stage, we have the opportunity to change the Bill for the better

In Ireland, Ministers have promised "frictionless" trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But leaving the Customs Union makes a hard border much more likely, as some sort of customs checks would need to be imposed on goods crossing the border, whether at the border or not. So we will support efforts to push the Government to negotiate a customs union.

And of course, we will be proposing an amendment to provide for a referendum on any Brexit deal - or if there is no deal at all.

During the course of last few weeks, there has been a growing recognition that Parliament would not be able to reject a deal and have the final say. Our amendment is supported by members from across the House, and it will gain votes from members of every party and group.

Labour will officially abstain, and our chance of success depends on how many pro-EU Labour peers break the whip to vote with us.

The choices the Lords make will help decide how the Brexit process unfolds.

I and my Lib Dem colleagues are determined to use the opportunity to curb ministerial powers and give the people the final say on any Brexit deal.