Boris Johnson’s controversial Brexit legislation, enabling ministers to break international law, has been branded “dangerous” and “baffling” in the Lords.
Peers warned they will seek to overturn key parts of the UK Internal Market Bill, which has already cleared the Commons despite opposition from some senior Tories.
More than 100 peers are listed to speak on the Bill’s second reading with a likely vote tomorrow on a motion of “regret” that the Bill contains provisions which would “undermine the rule of law” and damage the UK’s international reputation.
Lord Newby, Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, said it was the “most dangerous and baffling” piece of legislation to come before the House in the 23 years he had been a member.
Lord Newby urged peers to be ready for repeated parliamentary “ping pong” with the Commons if they succeeded in removing “law-breaking” clauses from the Bill during its later stages.
Business minister Lord Callanan defended the legislation, which will give the government the power to override provisions in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland.
Opening the debate, Lord Callanan said it would guarantee the continued functioning of the UK’s internal market to ensure trade remained unhindered and business could continue to operate with certainty.
He said it introduced “limited and reasonable steps to provide a safety net” to preserve peace in Northern Ireland, if an agreement was not reached with the EU on how to implement the Northern Ireland protocol.
Lord Judge, convener of the independent crossbenches, warned the Bill was “dangerous” and urged peers to defend the rule of law.
The former lord chief justice said the rule of law was a “bulwark against authoritarian incursion”.
Tory former leader Lord Howard of Lympne cited the words of Margaret Thatcher, who said: “Britain does not break treaties. It would be bad for Britain. Bad for relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade.”
“That says it all,” he added.
Pointing out that he had backed Brexit, he said he did not “regret or resile from that vote”.
He added: “I want the United Kingdom to be an independent and sovereign state. But I want it to be an independent sovereign state that holds its head up high in the world, that keeps its word, that upholds the rule of law, that honours its treaty obligations.
“I want it to be an independent sovereign state that is a beacon unto the nations. I do not want it to be an independent sovereign state that chooses, as one of the first assertions of that sovereignty, to break its word, to break the law and to renege on a treaty it signed barely a year ago.”
He vowed to oppose the provisions in the legislation that would enable the UK to break international law.
The Archbishop of Canterbury told the Lords: “In the Church of England, we are all too clearly aware of the shame that comes with failing morally.
“Let’s not make the same mistake at national level. This House exists to amend and improve legislation, not to derail it, and that must be our urgent aim now.”