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Liberal Democrats 'could force Theresa May to reveal Brexit plans'

Former leader Sir Menzies Campbell among group of peers that will seek to amend Brexit bill to force Prime Minister's hand

Benjamin Kentish
Thursday 17 November 2016 19:12 GMT
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the Government was trying to 'neuter Parliament'
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the Government was trying to 'neuter Parliament' (Getty Images)

The Liberal Democrats are planning to force Theresa May to reveal her Brexit negotiating strategy to Parliament before she triggers Article 50.

Four Lib Dem peers believe they can insert new clauses into the Government’s Brexit bill to force ministers to keep Parliament updated on negotiations with EU countries over Britain's withdrawal from the union. The four lords are all QCs and include former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell and Alex Carlile.

Brexit Secretary David Davis has previously suggested the Government may be forced to put a full Brexit bill before Parliament. This would give MPs and Lords the opportunity to add new clauses forcing ministers' hands over the UK’s negotiating position or even committing the government to holding a second referendum before Britain leaves the EU.

The four Lib Dem peers confirmed they would “use parliamentary procedure” to ensure the government keeps Parliament informed during the negotiation process.

They said: “We welcome the acceptance that a parliamentary bill is likely to be needed. We shall use parliamentary procedure to ensure that the act of parliament that emerges ensures that the government has to have regard to MPs’ and peers’ reasonable expectations of the negotiation process.”

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “The Government are trying every trick in the book to ram a bill through Parliament to trigger Article 50. Their latest trick is to pretend it will be impossible to amend. This is frankly untrue.”

"The Liberal Democrats believe that the voters should have a say through a vote on the final deal because departure is not the same as the destination. We will try and amend the bill and, if necessary, we will do this by proposing extra clauses to it to ensure proper debate and scrutiny of the process and the issues.

"This referendum was supposed to be about taking back control whereas this Tory Brexit government want to neuter Parliament."

Three High Court judges ruled earlier this month that Parliament must be given a say on Brexit - a blow for Theresa May, who had hoped to trigger Article 50 without having to seek parliamentary approval.

The Government is challenging the ruling to the Supreme Court but, with the case unlikely to be heard until January, ministers are believed to be drafting a Brexit bill for Parliament to vote on.

Any Brexit bill the Government introduces is likely to be passed by MPs and peers, many of whom feel they have a democratic duty to follow the outcome of June's referendum, but its passage through Parliament means a number of conditions could be added to bind ministers during negotiations with other EU countries.

Labour has said it will not attempt to block Article 50 but a number of the party's MPs are expected to defy the party whip. These include former leadership contender Owen Smith, Tottenham MP David Lammy and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner.

The Scottish National Party's 54 MPs are likely to join with the Liberal Democrats and Labour rebels, and possibly a small money of Conservative MPs, to vote against the bill.

Theresa May has pledged to trigger Article 50 by March 2017 but that could be delayed if the Brexit bill is held up in Parliament.

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