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Saturday, June 11, 2022

Northern Ireland protocol will have stiff defence in House of Lords

It seems that the House of Lords is where the sensible politians tend to practise their trade nowadays, though that does not legitimise the appointed oligarchy that they form part od, nor does it take away the need for reform.

Nevertheless, when the UK government decides it wants to break international law, all the lawyers in the upper house can be relied on to get rather riled up about the whole thing. 

The problem is of course, that these lawyers are all profoundly aware of their democratic illegitimacy, and will eventually yield to the elected government. Still, if it makes ministers think twice, then it will be worth it.

Thus, Conservative party grandee Ken Clarke steps forward to grab the baton. As the Independent reports, he believes that the “vast majority” of peers will back attempts to block a bill by Boris Johnson’s government aimed at overriding parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol:

The controversial legislation – designed to take unilateral action to stop checks on goods agreed with the EU as part of the Brexit deal – will be published in the Commons on Monday.

But the former Tory chancellor said the radical plan will be “seriously challenged” in the upper chamber. “I expect to find a very large majority of the House of Lords will hold it up for a considerable time,” Lord Clarke told the Daily Mail.

“I personally, I am afraid, usually vote against the government when they are trying to break the rule of law,” he said – adding that Britain should abide by a “rules-based international order in which countries reach agreements and then stick to them”.

The Tory peer added: “I do not think the government should be allowed to negotiate a treaty, tell the public that it is a fine treaty, get it ratified by parliament, and then almost immediately start trying to break it.”

Fellow Tory grandee Lord Michael Howard – the former party leader who has previously voted against the government on Brexit legislation – also said the bill would “undoubtedly encounter a rocky road” in the Lords.

Senior Labour and Liberal Democrats peers have also vowed to oppose the move, arguing that it violates an international treaty. Some observers predict that the Lords could help dilute the bill and delay it for up to a year.

In November 2020, peers handed the government a significant defeat over Internal Market Bill – its previous bid to override parts of the withdrawal agreement – voted 433 to 165 to remove key clauses.

Meanwhile, Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin warned the government it could face a rebellion of Brexiteer backbenchers in the Commons if the legislation if not offer the “serious prospect” of the DUP going back into government at Stormont.

And it is the position of the DUP, and the that of the European Research Group MPs, who want to make the bill as tough as possible in taking control of the movement of goods between GB and NI, that could be the deciding factor here. 

If the government digs its heels in, then the House of Lords will need to eventually concede. It may then be up to the courts and external pressures such as that of the US Government, that decides whether the protocol is broken and the Good Friday agreement nullified or not. 

What a mess.

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