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Johnson accused of trying to 'ram' Brexit deal through Parliament

PA Media

By Trevor Mason and Nick Lester, PA Political Staff

The UK Government has been accused by Labour in the Lords of trying to "ram" Boris Johnson's Brexit deal through Parliament without a willingness to change it.

Opposition spokeswoman Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town said ministers were acting in an "arrogant" and "stupid" manner to ensure the UK leaves the EU on January 31.

Opening second reading debate on the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, Lady Hayter said scant regard was being paid to the "normal democratic method of law-making".

But Brexit minister Lord Callanan said backing the Bill would allow Parliament to honour the result of the 2016 referendum, "get Brexit done and focus on our other national priorities".

Lord Callanan said the deal gave certainty to businesses, protected the rights of citizens and "ensures we regain control of our money, our borders and our laws".

The Bill has already cleared the Commons with big majorities in each of the votes in contrast to the torturous progress of previous attempts to implement a divorce deal.

But peers are divided on how far to push their opposition to parts of the legislation, with some warning the Lords must do its proper job of scrutiny while others say that to amend it will lead to further public distrust.

With more than 70 peers listed to speak in the debate, Lady Hayter told the packed House the "poor" Bill was being "rammed through" Parliament by a Government "determined to allow no changes" to it.

She said: "This is both stupid because it will mean corrections having to be made later but also arrogant with scant regard to our normal democratic method of law-making."

Lady Hayter said the idea that the Government will have a comprehensive deal with the EU by the end of the transition period in December was "for the birds" and warned of the risk of leaving with no deal.

She also accused the Government of a "shameful disregard of the rights of vulnerable refugee children to be reunited with their families here".

Opposition peers are expected to try to reintroduce provisions allowing unaccompanied child refugees to continue to be reunited with their families in the UK after Brexit during later stages of the legislation's consideration.

Lord Callanan insisted the Government's policy had not changed and it was fully committed to the principle of family unity and to helping and supporting the most vulnerable children.

Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords Lord Newby said: "The fact that the Government has a large majority and has indicated that it has no intention of accepting any changes whatsoever to the Bill is no excuse for failing to scrutinise and challenge its detailed provisions.”

"Nor from voting to secure changes which we believe are in the interests of individuals or the country as a whole."

Tory former Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said the Lords would look "ridiculous" if it sent amendments to the Bill back to the Commons and Tory former Brexit minister Lord Bridges of Headley warned against peers "frustrating" the will of elected MPs.

In his maiden speech, Tory peer Lord Barwell, who served as Theresa May's former chief of staff, said: "The deal which the Bill implements is in large part Theresa's deal."

But he warned the UK was "in danger of repeating the mistake we made in the divorce negotiations".

He said: "I understand why the Government doesn't want to extend the transition period, but there simply isn't time to negotiate the entire future relationship, have it ratified by national parliaments and for business to prepare to implement it in 11 months."

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