Brexit: Boris Johnson suffers triple defeat in Lords as peers vote against plans to allow lower courts to overrule EU law

Peers also voted to provide EU citizens with physical proof of their right to stay in UK

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 20 January 2020 20:54
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Boris Johnson suffers third defeat in Lords:Peers vote against plans to allow lower courts to overrule EU law

Boris Johnson has suffered three consecutive defeats in the House of Lords in a matter of hours, with the latest over plans to allow British judges at lower courts to overturn European Court of Justice rulings after Brexit.

It comes after concerns were aired over the prime minister’s plan to rip up Theresa May’s previous commitment to transfer all EU law onto the domestic statue book, which meant it could only be overturned by the Supreme Court, or the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland.

Instead, Mr Johnson added a new clause into the Withdrawal Agreement Bill following his decisive general election victory, to allow ministers the power to direct the courts on interpretation of EU law and to allow lower courts the power to overturn rulings of the ECJ.

Peers voted 241 – 205 on Monday evening, however, for a cross-party amendment to delete the powers from the bill, amid warnings of it being an interference in the independence of the judiciary.

Last week, members of the Lords Constitution Committee, which includes Tory peers, said the government’s plan raised “substantial constitutional concerns” and said it was “not appropriate” for courts other than the Supreme Court or the Scottish High Court of Justiciary to have the power to depart from EU law.

“Allowing lower courts to reinterpret EU case law risks causing significant legal uncertainty that would be damaging to individuals and companies,” they added.

“We cannot see the case for such broad and constitutionally significant regulation-making powers, and are not convinced by the rationale offered by the government.”

A third blow came moments later as the upper chamber also passed an amendment to allow cases to be referred to the Supreme Court to decide whether to depart from EU case law.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Johnson suffered his first parliamentary defeat since the general election as peers voted for EU citizens to be given physical proof of their right to stay in the UK after Brexit.

The estimated 3.6m EU residents in the UK fear victimisation without physical documents after Brexit, including by immigration officials as happened in the Windrush scandal.

But the Home Office is insisting its “digital-only” approach will be more secure, arguing physical documents “can get lost, stolen, damaged and tampered with”.

No 10 will be bracing for further defeats in the Lords on Tuesday, as peers prepare to debate the government’s decision to strip support for child refugees from the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

Ms May had included the safeguards in the legislation she presented to parliament as prime minister, but they are noticeably absent from Mr Johnson’s revised bill. However, given Mr Johnson’s resounding majority in the House of Commons, the results in the Lords could be overturned when the legislation is passed back to MPs later this week.

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