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Brexit bill faces tough test in House of Lords

The current composition of the upper house of the British Parliament is overwhelmingly pro-EU.

world Updated: Feb 19, 2017 18:45 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Brexit

The house cannot overturn the referendum vote, but amendments could delay the Brexit timetable.(Reuters file)

Over 190 speakers have been listed for a two-day debate in the House of Lords on the Brexit bill starting Monday, that seeks to authorise  the Theresa May government to begin the process of leaving the European Union.

However, the bill’s passage is unlikely to be smooth — the current composition of the upper house is overwhelmingly pro-EU and the ruling Conservative party does not have a majority. The house cannot overturn the referendum vote, but amendments could delay the Brexit timetable, scheduled to begin by the end of March.

Listed speakers include Indian-origin peers such as Meghnad Desai, Bhikhu Parekh and Karan Bilimoria. Several amendments to the bill have been drafted, most notably one on guaranteeing continued stay of EU citizens already in Britain, including thousands of Goa origin. This is one of the key areas that figured in the debate in House of Commons earlier this month.

The May government has so far refused to give guarantees of their future, linking it to the fate of British citizens living in other European countries — to be decided during negotiations.

There have been veiled threats that demands to abolish the House of Lords would be revived if the house did not pass the bill intact. but several peers have expressed confidence that the bill would be returned to the House of Commons in an amended form.

Senior Labour peer Peter Mandelson told BBC on Sunday that the government could be defeated in the House of Lords on the issue of guaranteeing rights of EU citizens post-Brexit, and giving parliament a ‘meaningful’ vote at the end of Brexit talks.

 “There is strong body of opinion across the parties and independent peers as well that both these issues are very serious…If it’s not good for Britain, send the government back to the negotiating table,” he said.

Read| Blair bats to reverse Brexit, revives divide

Known for his proximity to former prime minister Tony Blair, Mandelson defended the former’s intervention this week, asking people to “rise up” against Brexit in a speech that revived divisions on the issue.

“The reason why we asked (Blair) to make it last week is that we firmly believe many people had no idea of the terms by which the government would decide leave the EU. There are many people across the country who don’t have an extreme view way one way or the other – they are not extreme left or right. They feel their views are being bulldozed”, he said.