More Brexit defeats for No 10 in Lords amid reports of cabinet split - Peers vote by majority of 77 to keep the fundamental charter of EU rights in force
The government has suffered more significant defeats to its Brexit legislation in the House of Lords as the row over membership of the customs union threatened to split the cabinet.
Peers voted by a majority of 77 to keep the fundamental charter of EU rights in force after Britain leaves the EU with 10 Conservative voting with the opposition.
It raised the prospect of the government being defeated in the Commons on the amendment when the EU withdrawal bill returns for final consideration by MPs in May. Ministers only averted a defeat on the issue in January by offering to review the protections given by the charter.
Opening the debate, the cross-bencher Lord Pannick, who is a practising lawyer, argued that it was “unprincipled and unjustified” to remove the protection of rights from children, older people and disabled people that are covered by the charter.
The government lost a series of other votes that could have given ministers the power to restrict when citizens could use principles of EU law to challenge the government.
However, it avoided defeat on another measure relating to public health protection by pledging to allow EU obligations to continue after the UK left the EU.
The defeats came as Downing Street played down reports that senior cabinet ministers continue to be split over the customs union, with key Brexiters wanting to drop one of the two options put forward by the government.
Downing Street was earlier forced to deny reports that it was threatening to turn a Commons vote on the customs union later this spring into a form of “confidence vote” that would end May’s leadership or even topple the government if she lost.
It has signalled, however, that it will abstain in the debate this week on the issue, saying it was regarded simply as “routine backbench business”.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday that Britain must give Brussels a clear Brexit blueprint to allow negotiations to move forward.
All those involved “know where the EU stands” but “more clarity” is still needed from the UK, Barnier said.
In a speech in Hannover he said it was up to the government to come up with its vision for the future that either finalised or changed the UK’s red lines. “It is now up to the UK to come up with its vision for the future, which should confirm the UK’s red lines or adapt them,” he said. “Once we have more clarity from the UK, we will prepare a political declaration on the framework for the future relationship to accompany the withdrawal agreement in the autumn.”