Theresa May “eyeballed” unelected peers today after she issued a stark warning to the House of Lords not to frustrate the British public’s decision to back Brexit.
As the Lords started discussing the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, the Prime Minister said that she didn’t want “anyone holding up what the British people want”.
The upper chamber has an anti-Tory majority and is threatening to amend the legislation to give unilateral rights to EU citizens in the UK and to give Parliament a vote on the final Brexit deal with Brussels.
But May arrived in the Lords to watch part of the debate on Monday, as if to personally embody a reminder of the Commons’ thumping majority backing the Brexit bill.
Flanked by a Tory peer and a fellow Cabinet minister, she took the unusual step of sitting on the steps of the Queen’s throne in the chamber, as she is allowed to do as a member of the Privy Council.
Tory commentator Tim Montgomerie had his take on the unusual tactic
And Simon Blackwell, the script writer for political comedies ‘The Thick Of It’ and ‘Veep’, couldn’t resist this interpretation.
Former Labour Lords leader Jan Royall pointed out how unusual the move was
And some on Twitter photoshopping May’s throne link
Labour’s leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon, made a barbed remark about May’s decision to sit on the throne. Prime Ministers usually watch proceedings in the Lords from the bar of the House.
“How pleasing it is to see distinguished guests visiting from the other place today,” Baroness Smith said.
She added that her party would not wish to overturn or block the bill, but would try to make ministers think again about key aspects.
On a trip to Stoke-on-Trent to back the Conservative by-election campaign hours earlier, May gave a stark warning that she did not want the bill amended in any way.
Asked directly about the expected votes by the Lords, which could delay the bill by a week, she told ITV Central: “Properly there will be a debate and scrutiny in the House of Lords”.
“But I don’t want to see anyone holding up what the British people want, what the people of Stoke-on-Trent voted for last year, which is for us to deliver Brexit.”
For the avoidance of doubt, she added: “[The bill] was not amended [in the House of Commons]. I hope that the House of Lords will pay attention to that.”
The PM’s words came as Downing Street played down the amendments threat, stating that that what the Lords does “is a matter for the House of Lords”, adding that MPs passed the bill by a ratio of five to one.
A No.10 spokesman stressed that the legislation, which will allow May to trigger the formal Article 50 process of quitting the EU, was designed to enact “will” of the people expressed in the EU referendum in June 2016.
Some 190 peers, including former Cabinet ministers and diplomats, were due to speak in the two-day Second Reading debate on the Brexit Bill on Monday and Tuesday.
May has said she wants to trigger the Brexit process by the end of March, starting a two-year legal journey which will see the UK finally leave the EU by 2019.
Some MPs and Government sources have warned the Lords that they could face abolition or a flood of new Tory peers if they seek to block the Brexit bill.
Among the string of peers expected to speak in the debate was Lord Lisvane, the former Commons Clerk.
He told BBC Radio Wales on Sunday that Government sources briefing about abolition of the Lords “appear to be in the grip of powerful medication”. “I think these are very wild threats,” he said, but added that the Lords “could not, should not, would not” overturn the Brexit referendum result.
Among other speeches, former Tory leader Lord Hague attacked Tony Blair’s plea last week to Remain voters to ‘rise up’ against May’s version of Brexit.
A new ICM/Guardian poll found that on the issue of EU citizens’ rights in the UK after Brexit, voters backed May rather than Labour’s plan for unilateral rights.
Some 42% of those polled said the Government should not give EU nationals living in the UK the right to stay “until Britons living in other EU countries get the same right”
A total of 41% of voters said that such citizens should get their rights up front, “because it is the right thing to do and may get negotiations off to a good start”.