The Article 50 bill’s passage into law may be on a recess break, but that doesn’t mean ministers have nothing to work on in preparing for Brexit. David Davis has been away in Stockholm today meeting his Swedish counterpart, Europe minister Ann Linde. The mood music was positive, as Linde said both nations had the “same vision” when it came to ensuring Brits living in the EU, and EU migrants living in Britain, “ don’t become a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations” and have the right to stay where they are. The Brexit Secretary in turn said that Britain wanted to have a broad trade agreement with Sweden.
But what will intrigue Brexit-watchers most is Mr Davis’ suggestion that the Government was ready to do battle with the House of Lords in order to get its Article 50 bill through. He noted that the bill to authorise Article 50 had made its way through the Commons “very straightforwardly” with “very solid majorities”, but that he expected the Lords to send it back with amendments. “We call it ping pong, you can imagine why, backwards and forwards of the Bill, but I expect that to be resolved in good time before the end of March.” The Government was conciliatory in how it spoke about the Lords last week, as senior Conservatives raged about the prospect, so Mr Davis’ new tone suggests it is gearing up for a fight.
It’s easy to see why ministers would worry about what the Lords might do to the Article 50 bill. Peers don’t have any pro-Brexit constituents to worry about enraging, and the Conservatives don’t have a majority in the upper chamber. The Government can force it through if the Lords play up, but the methods can be messy and require time. Tory peer, and former MEP, Martin Callanan warned last month that peers would “destroy our political credibility for a generation” if they tried to delay the bill.
How protracted could this stand-off get? Mr Davis has previously declared that it was their “patriotic duty” to pass the Bill, but pro-EU peers may feel just as strongly that it is their patriotic duty to nitpick. If they decide to fire it back to the Commons for some parliamentary ping-pong, the Brexit Secretary will be waiting with his bat.
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