Boris Johnson Suffers Huge New Lords Defeat Over Hardline Brexit Bill

Peers start parliamentary ping pong over moves to restore powers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Boris Johnson has suffered yet another Lords defeat over his Brexit plans, as peers rejected an attempted “power grab” over devolved nations.

Peers voted by 320 to 215 for a cross-party amendment that would prevent Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from being “bypassed” once the UK’s transition period out of the EU ends on December 31.

In the first serious parliamentary ping-pong between the two houses of parliament over the Internal Market Bill, the Lords move follows the Commons rejecting their amendment on Monday.

Although ministers attempted to see off a defeat by offering greater consultation for the devolved administrations, peers are determined to secure even bigger changes to the bill.

Nicola Sturgeon has already called the bill “a full-frontal assault on devolution” because it hands to London previous EU powers over food safety, minimum pricing, environmental policy and animal health and welfare.

Johnson is under fire over the issue after he told MPs earlier this month that “devolution has been a disaster north of the border”.

And peers warned that the campaign for Welsh independence would take off too if they bill was passed in its current form.

The Lords voted again for an amendment tabled by independent crossbencher Lord Hope of Craighead, a retired Scottish judge who was the first deputy president of the Supreme Court, to protect “common frameworks” across the whole of the UK.

The common frameworks, first drafted in 2018 under Theresa May, manage the extent of divergence across policy areas for the four nations of the UK.

Lord Hope told peers the government’s bill “needs to suit the needs and aspirations of all parts of the UK, which may differ greatly from one part to the other”.

Johnson has already been forced to gut key sections of the bill, agreeing to EU demands to remove sections that would have allowed the UK to break international law over the Northern Ireland protocol agreed with Brussels.

Labour’s shadow minister Baroness Hayter said: “We thought that this bill would respect the devolution realities whilst helping to ensure the UK market to prosper for the sake of business, consumers, workers, our agriculture and the environment.”

But instead the government had put in the legislation market access rules that “trumped rather than solidified the common frameworks programme”, which had been “built on consensus rather than top down diktat”.

Cabinet office minister Lord True cautioned peers about creating legal uncertainty for businesses and consumers over whether or not “market principles” applied.

But the minister appeared open to further concessions ahead of a vote on Thursday, when MPs are due to send the bill back to the Lords, saying “the government will obviously continue to reflect further”.

One possible compromise is greater recognition in law of the precedence of the common frameworks in the post-Brexit transition process.

If MPs again reject the amendment, the Lords is expected to hold another vote next Monday.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Welsh parliament voted to refuse legislative consent for the Internal Market Bill.

Plaid Cymru’s leader at Westminster Liz Saville Roberts told HuffPost UK: “A ‘right to be consulted’ is a ‘right to be ignored’, with frills on.

“Westminster must start treating the devolved governments as equal partners, or their so-called olive branch is a scant fig leaf to conceal Tory contempt for Wales.”

The government later suffered three further Lords defeats on the bill, to give devolved administrations greater rights over state aid, regional development funds and market access.

SNP’s Deputy Westminster leader Kirsten Oswald MP said: “The reality is that the bill remains a power grab piece of legislation which will take a wrecking ball to devolution.

“On the same day the House of Lords tore apart the bill and inflicted yet another round of defeats on the Tory government, the Welsh Parliament has voted to refuse granting consent to the bill.

“lt tells you all you need to know about the Tory government and their disdain for devolution that despite both the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments now refusing consent, the Tories are intent on ploughing on regardless.”


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