The Chamber began a series of votes on clauses within the Bill just before 11pm, voting down the first one by 433 to 165. It was the third largest defeat in the upper chamber since 1999 and rebels included Lord Howard and Lord Clarke. Peers went on to inflict a further defeat on the Government by 407 votes to 148, majority 259, stripping out a further contentious clause relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol. All the other controversial provisions were removed without votes.
Earlier Lords lined up to voice their opposition to the controversial legislation, which would give the Government powers to override certain aspects of the EU withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland.
Cross-party amendments were tabled to strike out clauses linked to the most contentious part of the Bill, which Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has admitted breaks international law in a “very specific and limited way”.
Peers took the unusual step of holding votes at committee stage to remove these sections of the Bill on Monday rather than waiting for report stage, signalling the level of opposition to the measures.
Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski, a long-term critic of the Lords who believes it should be replaced by an elected upper chamber similar to the Senate in the United States, told Express.co.uk: “The government must not cave in to the demands of these unelected and unaccountable Lords over an issue of such a monumental constitutional impact.
Lords have voted to strip out key clauses in the Internal Market Bill
Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland Secretary, has admitted the Bill breaches international law
“The Commons has spoken and we acknowledge how essential the Internal Market Bill is to the sanctity of our new independence and sovereignty.”
The Government has insisted powers to override the Withdrawal Agreement are needed to protect the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but critics argue the powers are not necessary.
Independent crossbench peer Lord Judge, a former head of the judiciary, said: “We are being asked by the executive to give a minister authority to break international law, to subvert the rule of law, to damage our international reputation.”
The independent crossbench peer added: “When are we going to check the pernicious, subliminal process of allowing the sovereignty of Parliament to be refashioned into the sovereignty of the executive?
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“In this part, the executive is seeking powers that Parliament should never have been asked to give.
“But as we have been asked to give them, we must not be complicit, we must not be supine.
“And the only way available to us to indicate that we are neither complicit nor supine is for us to say ‘not content’ to each clause in this part of the Bill.”
Lord Newby, Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, added: “If we can’t take a view on a matter of deliberate law-breaking by the Government we may as well pack up our bags now.”
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Lord Howard of Lympne is opposed to controversial aspects of the Bill
Tory Peer Baroness Neville-Rolfe speaking in the Chamber
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby raised concerns that the Bill “fails to take into account the sensitivities and complexities of Northern Ireland and could have unintended and serious consequences for peace and reconciliation”.
The leader of the Church of England added: “I hope the Government will reflect on the strength of feeling, depth of experience and wisdom of expertise shown in the debate on these clauses and will not push for their reinstatement, but their replacement with others that better guarantee that the rule of law, peace and the balances of power are upheld within our United Kingdom.”
Former Tory leader Lord Howard of Lympne said: “I wanted to be an independent country which truly is a beacon unto the nations and I am dismayed that the Government, the Government which I have supported for so long and which I have very, very rarely disagreed with and rebelled against, that that Government has chosen as one of the first assertions of its newly-won sovereignty to break its word, to break international law and to renege on a treaty it signed barely a year ago.
“I hope your Lordships will at least give the Government the opportunity to think again by removing part five from the Bill.”
Tory Lord Cormack said the law-breaking clauses in the Bill must go and threatened to vote against them “again and again” if necessary.
Lord Cormack warned that if they were allowed to remain “we would be rightly accused of losing our moral compass as a nation”.
Tory former minister Baroness Altmann joined those opposing the controversial clauses.
Lord Ricketts voiced his concerns about the impact the Bill would have on foreign policy
She explained: “We cannot allow the Government to just re-write an international agreement to suit ourselves and undermine the very foundation of our democracy based on the rule of law and parliamentary sovereignty.”
Lord Ricketts said the UK had been instrumental in upholding the rule of law, and in persuading countries including Iran to adhere to the rule of law.
He asked: “How can we preach to iran what we don’t practice at home?”
Referring to the election of Joe Biden as US President, and concerns about Brexit which he has previously voiced, Lord Richetts asked: “It would be the worst possible start to plow ahead with Part 5 even after Mr Biden has warned of the consequences.”
Irrespective of the decision of the Lords, their changes are certain to be overturned when the Bill goes back to the Commons.
A government spokesman said: “We are disappointed that the House of Lords has voted to remove clauses from the UK Internal Market Bill, which was backed in the House of Commons by 340 votes to 256 and delivers on a clear Conservative manifesto commitment. We will retable these clauses when the Bill returns to the Commons.
“We’ve been consistently clear that the clauses represent a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market and the huge gains of the peace process.
“We expect the House of Lords to recognise that we have an obligation to the people of Northern Ireland to make sure they continue to have unfettered access to the UK under all circumstances.”