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Threat of no-deal Brexit fades away after Lords debate

By Julian Shea in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-09-06 03:24

The Union flag flies above Britain's House of Lords, the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, in London, Aug 29, 2019. [Photo/IC]

Upper chamber to return legislation to MPs by end of the week

The bill ruling out the possibility of a no-deal Brexit should complete its passage through all stages of Parliament by the end of the week after an agreement was reached in Britain's upper chamber, the House of Lords, to return it to the House of Commons for approval by the close of business on Friday.

There had been fears that Conservative members of the Lords would filibuster, or deliberately slow down, proceedings to hold up its legislative passage, with the debate going on long into the night. The Liberal Democrats' leader in the Lords was even pictured turning up at the House with a duvet and shaving kit, but in the end an agreement was reached in the early hours of the morning.

"It has been quite a night. It has been a long debate – and I am grateful to the noble Lords who have stayed the course – it shows the importance of the work we do but also the issue on which we are debating," said Labour's leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith.

"I am grateful that we are now able to confirm that we will be able to complete all stages of the bill in a time-honored way by 5 pm Friday."

This means it could be returned to the House of Commons and MPs can vote on it one last time on Monday, before it is presented to the Queen for royal assent, ahead of the chamber being shut down for five weeks.

This extended shutdown coincides with the annual conferences of all the major parties, but it caused outrage when it was called by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a now-failed bid to restrict the time available for rebel MPs to block a possible no-deal Brexit.

The news from the Lords is another blow for Johnson, whose first week as prime minister following the summer recess has seen a succession of defeats.

On Tuesday night, a rebellion by 21 of his own Conservative MPs saw the government lose control of the parliamentary legislative process, and resulted in the rebel MPs, including former chancellors of the exchequer Philip Hammond and Kenneth Clarke, the longest-serving member in Parliament, being thrown out of the party.

Following this defeat, MPs then voted for the first time on the legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit, and despite having long protested that he did not want to call a general election before Brexit was delivered, Johnson was then forced to seek MPs' backing for one – but he failed to secure the two-thirds of the house required, largely because of Labour members failing to vote.

They do not want an election until the prospect of no deal is utterly eliminated by statute, because an election before that happens might throw Johnson a lifeline, with him potentially securing public support for Brexit by whatever means, enabling him to deliver his long-held promise that Brexit will happen on Oct 31 "do or die, come what may".

For that deadline to pass without any progress would hugely damage the new prime minister's authority, and make the Conservatives more vulnerable at any election that could take place at a later date.

Even though the prospect of a snap general election has now receded, it has left its mark on Britain's political landscape.

According to government figures, on Monday, 52,408 people registered to vote, with another 64,485 applying on Tuesday, the day of the rebel MPs' victory in the Commons, with the majority of those applications thought to be from younger voters, many of whom were too young to have a say in the Brexit referendum of 2016. In the previous month, the typical number of weekday applications was around 27,000.

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