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UK peers were given fresh warnings not to try to change the Brexit Bill after it cleared its first hurdle in the House of Lords.
Brexit minister Lord Bridges mentioned voters had backed a “brutally simple” question in the referendum as he cautioned fellow peers against attempting to amend the legislation during what are expected to be fiery exchanges next week.
This bill’s core purpose, indeed its only purpose, is to start the process of leaving the European Union,” he added.
The tough government stance came as prominent Remain and Leave supporters hit out at any attempt by the European Parliament to try to force the UK to hold a second referendum.
Ex-Labour shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn and former justice secretary Michael Gove used a Westminster Brexit lecture hosted by the Commons Speaker to warn MEPs that suggestions they may seek to refuse to ratify any withdrawal deal unless British voters are given a say on it would be an “unwise” move.
As ministers braced themselves for another battle in the Lords, government sources insisted Brexit Secretary David Davis had not spoken out of turn when he used a visit to Estonia to say the door would not “suddenly shut” on EU migrants after withdrawal.
The first stage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which gives Prime Minister Theresa May the power to trigger Article 50 and begin divorce negotiations, was agreed by peers after 20 hours of debate which saw many in the chamber voice opposition to the Government’s stance on Brexit.
As shadow chancellor John McDonnell was insisting Labour had not given the government a blank cheque, the party put Mrs May on notice that while it would not try to block the Brexit Bill, it was seeking concessions on key aspects of withdrawal.
In what is expected to be a hard-fought committee stage of the bill when it comes back to the upper house, opposition parties are likely to press on issues like securing the rights of some three million EU nationals in the UK, and ensuring Parliament has a “meaningful” vote on the outcome of Brexit negotiations.
With the government lacking a majority in the Lords, Liberal Democrat Baroness Ludford commented:
Waving this Bill through with no change while harbouring serious reservations would be an abrogation of our responsibility. We are being asked to rubber-stamp Brexit at any cost, the most extreme of all the options open to the government.