The government suffered a heavy defeat in the House of Lords over its “law-breaking” Brexit legislation on Monday night, with peers across the chamber lining up to criticise Boris Johnson.
The Internal Market Bill contains measures that overrule the Withdrawal Agreement that Johnson struck with the EU last year – but peers voted overwhelmingly, 433 to 165, to remove a section of the legislation that would enable ministers to break international law.
Former Conservative leader Lord Howard led calls for the prime minister to “think again” and remove the contentious parts of the bill, warning that the Government is using the language of “law breakers” everywhere.
Ken Clarke, the former chancellor, delivered a barnstorming speech urging his colleagues to use “the full extent of the constitutional powers” of the House of Lords to stop the legislation, as the “consequences for this country would be appalling”.
“It’s not only immoral as a piece of legislation, it’s intrinsically ridiculous and deeply damaging for the reputation of this country,” he added.
Claire Fox up
Claire Fox, the former Brexit MEP, was one of the few peers standing up in support of Johnson’s law-breaking bill – only to then vote it down by accident.
Fox – who was recently appointed to the Lords by Johnson – claimed it was parliament’s “right as a sovereign elected body” to be able to break the law.
“Under pressure from Brexiteers, Boris Johnson contested and won the December general election,” she said.
“He pledged the UK would not be tied to EU rules. The government are now trying to keep that promise to the electorate.
“The main part of this Internal Market Bill is to give the UK government the power to override those aspects of an international treaty that would, for example, bind Northern Ireland to a range of EU rules.
“The government is not breaking the law, it is making the law, by proposing a Bill that would allow it to change some of its commitments to international treaty by getting it voted through the democratic chamber
“That is what governments are elected to do in a democracy and it is their right as a sovereign elected body to do so.”
But Fox swiftly undermined herself – when she walked through the ‘nay’ lobby, and helped inflict a stinging defeat on the government.
“I fess up,” she tweeted afterwards. “Haven’t got hang of voting app or difference between contents/not contents palaver, so voted wrong way in one of votes. My rookies’ error gave Lib Dems a laugh and in huge defeat my vote hardly mattered. Said what I needed.”