Government suffers three more heavy Brexit Bill defeats at hands of Lords

The Government has suffered three more heavy defeats in the Lords over flagship Brexit legislation.

In the main reverse, peers backed a cross-party move to retain key EU human rights provisions on exiting the union.

Voting was 316 to 245, majority 71, to carry over most of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into domestic law post-Brexit.

It came in report stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and after two big defeats at the hands of the Lords last week.

Ten Tory peers backed the amendment in defiance of the Government, including former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine and former ministers Lord Patten of Barnes and Lord Willetts.

The Government suffered a further defeat, linked to the earlier one, when peers voted by 285 to 235, majority 50, to remove the ability for ministers to specify in regulations cases where individuals may bring challenges against the validity of retained EU law.

And there was a third defeat for ministers, consequential to the previous reverses, retaining the right of legal action from any failure to comply with the general principles of EU law. Peers voted by 280 to 223, majority 57.

Leading lawyer and independent crossbencher Lord Pannick said exclusion of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights from the Bill conflicted with the central purpose of the legislation.

Calling for the majority of the charter to be retained after Brexit, Lord Pannick warned that exclusion of its rights for the child, the elderly and the disabled, among others, was "unprincipled and unjustified".

Lord Pannick, who won the Article 50 case against the Government, said that to exclude a number of important EU rights from domestic law would lead to a lack of certainty and continuity, providing a "recipe for confusion" after Brexit.

Lords Brexit vote 2
Lord Speaker Lord Fowler reads out the result of the first vote (Parliament TV)

"I fear the Government is seeking to make an exception for rights under the charter because the Government is suspicious of the very concept of fundamental rights," he told peers.

Accusing ministers of acting for purely "doctrinal" reasons, Lord Pannick said: "This Bill should not be used as an excuse to reduce the legal rights which we all enjoy against the state."

Opposition spokesman Lord Goldsmith, backing the amendment, said the Prime Minister had promised that "the rights on the day after exit would be the same as the day before".

He added: "What is it uniquely about this which means that we apply a different process to it from what is applied to everything else?"

Lord Goldsmith went on: "Of all EU laws alone the charter is being excluded. That drives one to the question as to why that should be."

three big votes over 500 today. Will update tomorrow. Between Nov 1999 and 2011 total numbers voting in Lords divisions did not breach 500. Of the 22 (500+ votes) since 2011, 9 have come since the referendum.

-- Matthew Purvis (@HLLibResearch) April 23, 2018

Raising the possible reasons, he said what would be "more sinister" is that there "is an unhappiness, a suspicion about fundamental rights".

But Lord Keen of Elie, for the Government, said: "When we leave the union, union law will be foreign law."

Lord Keen said that to suggest acts of parliament should be capable of being "struck down by reference to a body of foreign law" would be "one of the greatest constitutional outrages since 1689".

It would also be a "total abdication of responsibility by this Parliament," he said, adding: "The idea that we are going to have to cling on to a body of foreign law to maintain fundamental human rights in this country is simply astonishing."

Lord Keen warned that to incorporate the whole of the charter into UK law would do "serious damage" to the constitutional settlement post-Brexit.

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