Newby: Brexiteers will not intimidate the Lords

In an interview for The House magazine, Lib Dem Lords leader Dick Newby has said that support in the Lords is growing for a referendum on the Brexit deal. However, he says that even if that amendment is lost, the campaign for the people, not MPs or the Government, to have a final say on the deal, will continue:

But the fight for a second vote will not stop once Article 50 has been triggered, Newby insists. Indeed, “it’s just the beginning”, he adds, saying the Great Repeal Bill and other Brexit legislation could be amended. In the meantime, the Lib Dems will be campaigning across the country arguing the case for a do over.

Newby says it would be “implausible” for MPs not to grant a second referendum if public opinion shifts in favour of Remain in the coming months. Parliament bequeathed the decision on EU membership to the public once, why would it prevent it again, he queries.

“We will look at every opportunity to get this provision for a vote of the people at the end,” he declares. But are Tony Blair, who has called on Remainers to “rise up” against Brexit, peers et al the right figureheads of this movement? “I think that everybody involved in public life has a right to make the argument, but this is a people’s issue now… it’s not in the hands of the Commons.”

He was speaking before Monday’s vote in which an amendment calling for us to stay in the single market was lost because Labour peers were whipped to oppose it. There are still hopes that at least the right to remain for EU nationals will pass.

There has been a bit of an onslaught from the Brexiteers, predicting all manner of consequences if the Lords dares to do its job and scrutinise the Government’s legislation.  Dick says that peers won’t be overly bothered by the invective coming their way.

And he dismisses “hysterical” claims that by amending the legislation peers are hamstringing the PM as she prepares to enter the Brexit negotiations. “The people on the Brexit side, the Iain Duncan Smiths of this world, have been having it all their way to such an extent by shouting loud and trying to intimidate people. Well they won’t intimidate people here,” he says. “We will behave in the way that we think is the correct constitutional way for the Lords to behave on a bill.”

 Lib Dems, he says, would happily give up their peerages if it meant Brexit was stopped.

“People here like me have had Europe as one of the central themes of our entire political lives. We think what the government’s doing and the way it’s setting about it is a disaster. There’s not much appetite for sitting on hands here,” he says. As for threats of abolition, or fast tracking Lords reform, he is far from convinced.

“Some people around the government, and people like Oliver Letwin and Norman Lamont have said ‘unless you do as you’re told, we’ll be beastly’. And people are just laughing them, really. It’s not within the realms of possibility. And frankly as somebody from my group said, if I thought the option was that we could stop Brexit or that I’d be booted out of Parliament, I’d be booted out tomorrow.”

But in a nearly unprecedented move Theresa May was present as peers commenced the first day of debate on Article 50. With ministers rotating watch, like guards surveying the enemy’s activity, the government is posturing like it means business. The Lib Dems have long called for Lords reform, and Newby says the party would still like to see an elected Upper Chamber. But Newby believes that even though members of his team would sacrifice their peerages to secure key amendments on Brexit, ministers will not take action.

The interview is available here.

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