The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – the “Brexit Bill” – which passed through the House of Commons on Wednesday, is to progress to the House of Lords for scrutiny. The House of Lords is likely to pass the Bill, however amendments are expected, and a number of peers, including the former Labour MP, Peter Hain, have said they will hold up the legislation. The Financial Times’ report on the issue quotes Alastair Campbell, who has called the prospect “the best double whammy of all time”, as by blocking Brexit the unelected House could trigger its own abolition. Meanwhile the BBC quoted a government source as saying “If the Lords don’t want to face an overwhelming public call to be abolished they must get on and protect democracy and pass this bill.”
Members of the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the British Parliament, are unelected. The chamber currently has nearly 700 “life peers”, who are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister. The House also has 91 hereditary peers and 26 bishops. Unlike in the House of Commons, the Conservative Government does not have a majority in the Lords, and it can be defeated by a combination of Labour, Liberal Democrat and crossbench peers.
The House is set to debate the Bill when it returns from recess on 20 February, and it is expected the deliberations will continue until at least early March. Labour peers have already tabled eight amendments, including an amendment to increase parliamentary scrutiny of negotiations, and an amendment to give EU and European Economic Area nationals the right to remain in the UK, regardless of how UK migrants are treated by other EU states. A similar amendment was tabled by Labour in the House of Commons, however the amendment was rejected by a vote of 332 to 290. Any amendments made to the Bill must then be discussed by the House of Commons, where their survival will be dependent on either the Government’s willingness to compromise, or on a rebellion by Conservative moderates. Should the Commons vote against the amendments, it is likely the Lords would cede the amendments.