Liz Truss’s first major parliamentary battle? Brexit (of course) – POLITICO

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LONDON — Crossbench peers in the House of Lords are preparing a frontal attack on the British government’s controversial plans to rewrite Northern Ireland’s protocol when Parliament returns from its summer recess.

In a crucial closed-door meeting next week, senior peers – including leading former judges and lawyers – will agree their strategy to try to bring down the Northern Ireland Protocol Billa bombshell bill designed to give UK ministers the power to ignore crucial parts of the painstakingly negotiated Brexit deal.

The Protocol Bill passed through the House of Commons this summer without amendment, but faces a real battle in the upper house of the British Parliament, where it arrives for its first debates after the party conference season in early October. The showdown is likely to be the first major parliamentary test of the new Prime Minister – widely believed to be Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – who will be in place from September 6.

The stakes are high and the peers are in no mood to compromise.

“There will be weeks and weeks and weeks of battle over this bill, because it contains a lot of things that many lords on all sides will really hate,” said Peter Ricketts, a motley peer and former chief. Foreign, Commonwealth and United Kingdom. Development Office.

Two aspects of the bill worry the Lords: the UK’s plan to use the legislation to disable parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol – which many observers say would be a breach of international law – and the significant delegated powers that ministers would gain under its provisions.

As always, parliamentary tactics will be key. Peers opposed to the bill are split between those who would like to reject it completely at second reading and those who favor a significant amendment and sending it back to the Commons with a stark message of disapproval.

Rejecting the bill outright would make it clear that the Lords consider the legislation “truly unacceptable in any form”, said a leading peer, speaking on condition of anonymity. But the peer also warned that such a move could be construed as an “insult”. As an unelected house, the role of the Lords is normally to review and improve legislation rather than block it altogether.

Many peers say amending the bill would be a more reasoned way to highlight the most problematic areas of the bill, although it may prove less effective in achieving policy change.

Peers agree battle will likely be tougher than fighting arsonist Internal Market Bill in 2020. In this case, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis’ acknowledgment that the proposals did breach international law – in what he described as a “specific and limited way” – helped the cause of the opposition. The bill eventually became law, but only after the government withdrew its most controversial clauses.

This time ministers insist their approach is legal, arguing that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is the only remaining way to protect the Good Friday/Belfast peace deal. The government says the landmark 1998 deal ending decades of sectoral violence is now under threat because of the way the EU is trying to enact the protocol. The peers insist that this argument is flawed, as the government knew full well the impact the protocol would have in Northern Ireland when it was agreed.


Liz Truss plans to buy time by triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The bill is also seen by the Lords as an executive power grab because of the sweeping new powers it would grant to ministers, allowing them to change trade policy in Northern Ireland without needing the approval of the Parliament.

A damning report published by the Lords’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in July identified up to 12 instances of delegation of power to ministers, which the peers deemed ‘inappropriate’. Many of these cases should form the basis of possible amendments.

The committee concluded that the Bill “represents as blatant a transfer of power from parliament to the executive as we have seen throughout the Brexit process” and “is unprecedented in its cavalier treatment of Parliament, of the EU and the government’s international obligations”.

Several old amendments that failed to pass the House of Commons are also set to resurface in the Lords, including symbolic changes meant to send a clear message to Belfast – and even Washington – about the paramount importance of peace. in Northern Ireland.

The peers believe it would send a ‘strong signal to all flavors of Northern Irish that there is no change from this point of view’, said Charles Kinnoull, who chairs the Union committee European Lords.

David Pannick, a human rights lawyer who won the Article 50 Brexit case; Igor Judge, former Supreme Court justice and organizer of crossbenchers; and David Anderson, a lawyer who was previously the UK government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, are seen as among the heterogeneous peers leading the charge against the bill.

Assuming the Peers decide to amend the Bill, its process through the Lords could take a full day for second reading; up to six days for committee deliberations; three days for report stage; and another full day for its third reading. The ping-pong, the process by which the bill is sent back and forth between the two houses as they attempt to resolve disagreements over the final text, could then take several more weeks, potentially delaying passage of the bill. bill until the end of the year.

In the meantime, Truss plans to buy time by triggering Article 16 of the protocol — a more legitimate, albeit likely temporary, way to suspend parts of the deal.

Eyes on the job

Keir Starmer has so far been careful not to take positions that could be presented as siding with the EU against Britain | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Final passage of the bill could now rest with the Labor Party, which has been cautious under Keir Starmer not to adopt positions that could be portrayed as siding with the EU against Britain. Brittany.

The main opposition party is “very aware of what the electorate might think”, and this will have to be “a factor” in the strategy adopted by the Lords, according to the interbank peer quoted above. Labor votes – along with the other opposition parties and some rebel Tories – would be needed for Crusader MPs to have any hope of winning key amendment votes.

Jenny Chapman, a senior Labor Party official in the Lords and one of Starmer’s closest political allies, told POLITICO her party will “engage as constructively as possible” with the government’s plans.

But she added: “If we were in government, we wouldn’t be proposing this legislation. The only way to solve this problem is dialogue and negotiation [with Brussels].”

Chapman thinks many of the Tory peers opposed to the proposals might vote against them initially, but would end up aligning themselves with the government as the ping-pong process unfolds – “especially if it becomes a matter of authority for a new Conservative Prime Minister”.

The Peers are well aware that any amendment they make is likely to be voted down by the Commons, where the Tories have a large majority. But they hope a drawn-out review process can at least create room for further policy talks between the UK and EU this autumn.

“At the end of the day, this is just the background music for what really needs to happen – namely talks followed by agreement between the two big unions,” Kinnoull said. “But it’s very obnoxious background music, and it’s not a tactic I would applaud at all.”

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Denise W. Whigham