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The Prime Minister has faced a backlash from across Westminster – even from several of his own Conservative Party ministers and peers – over his proposal to override the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU last year, possibly breaking international law in the process. The Internal Market Bill would breach the Northern Ireland protocol of the divorce agreement that seeks to avoid a hard customs border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU-member the Republic of Ireland. The proposed legislation passed its first stage in the Commons on Monday by 340 votes to 263, and is scheduled to finish its journey through the lower house on September 29.
The Bill will then undergo scrutiny in the Lords but is not being fast-tracked by peers and could take most of October and November to consider.
Several peers in the upper chamber, including some Conservatives, have heavily criticised the Bill, but their main role is to amend and improve legislation, not to block it on principle.
There is precedent for the Lords to block legislation, but deciding to do so would spark a huge constitutional row, so peers are more likely to try and amend the Bill to remove or dilute certain parts.
But any amendments would then have to return to the Commons for approval and wouldn’t likely happen until early December – a long way past the EU’s end of September deadline to withdraw the Bill, or Mr Johnson’s October 15 deadline for a deal with the EU.
Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the Bow Group think tank, said it’s unlikely the Lords could derail the Internal Market Bill as the Commons can pass legislation to override any opposition to it.
But he warned any attempt by peers to entirely block the legislation would “likely mark the end of the House of Lords existence”.
Mr Harris-Quinney told Express.co.uk: “It’s unlikely they could derail the Bill, but like the Monarchy, the House of Lords effectively exists with the consent of the House of Commons.
“The Commons can pass legislation that overrides any House of Lords opposition if it needs to.
“There should be little doubt this is exactly what the government would do in the event the Lords decided to attempt to block the legislation entirely.
“It would also very likely mark the end of the House of Lords existence.”
Alistair Jones, Associate Professor in Politics and University Teacher Fellow at De Montfort University in Leicester, warned while peers will not be able to destroy the Prime Minister’s overall Brexit plan at this stage, the same cannot be said for the Internal Market Bill.
He told this website: “Brexit will not be derailed. We have already left the EU, and are merely in a transition period – which was supposed to be time for both sides to adjust to the new relationship.
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“The Internal Market Bill could be derailed, but I don’t think Johnson is overly bothered.
“He has been ready for a no-deal relationship and I feel that is his real aim.
“The issue is about finding a ‘fall guy’ to take the blame should this go wrong.
“Keir Starmer has avoided this trap, as has the EU. The House of Lords may have walked into it.”
On Thursday, former Tory leader Lord Howard slapped down a compromise between Downing Street and Conservative MPs to amend parts of the Internal Market Bill, warning it “isn’t enough” for him to back it in the House of Lords, and warned the chances of others approving it are “not great”.
The proposed changes would hand the Commons a say before powers to break international law could be used.
But Lord Howard said: “The Government is still asking Parliament to break international law.”
Earlier this month, a House of Lords spokesman defended the role peers play in the upper chamber, and told Express.co.uk: “The House of Lords is a highly effective and busy Chamber, performing a vital role of improving legislation and holding the Government to account.
“Only today the House began detailed line-by-line examination of the Immigration and Social Security Bill which will determine how our immigration system works once the Brexit transition period ends, tomorrow we start on the Trade Bill, vital issues that require the close scrutiny for which the House is known.
“In the last financial year the House considered 779 amendments to legislation and asked the Government 6,482 written questions.
“This is the important process of improving legislation and holding the Government to account in action.”
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