Theresa May is acting like a 'cruel parent' over Brexit, says Labour peer

PUBLISHED: 15:06 14 March 2019 | UPDATED: 21:51 14 March 2019

Baroness Smith of Basildon speaks in the House of Lords. Photograph: PA Wire.

Baroness Smith of Basildon speaks in the House of Lords. Photograph: PA Wire.

PA Archive/PA Images

The prime minister has been acting like a "cruel parent" over her dogged attempts to get the rejected Brexit deal through parliament.

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Baroness Smith of Basildon, Labour’s leader in the Lords, said May did not have the full support of her government or the cabinet.

Lady Smith said the May had been “extraordinarily intransigent” in her speech to MPs after the defeat last night on a no-deal Brexit and wanted to “ignore parliament”.

Lady Smith said the government was spending time, energy and money on preparing for a “no-deal failure” despite the vote to rule it out.

She said of reports that Mrs May would make another attempt to get her “twice rejected deal” approved by MPs: “She’s acting like a cruel parent who when a child won’t eat it’s dinner serves up the same plate of cold food day after day until they are forced to accept the unwanted, unpalatable and dangerous.”

Lady Smith urged ministers to end this “dreadful waste of resources” and bring forward legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Brexit minister Lord Callanan said the legal position, until it is changed, is that the UK will leave the EU on March 29.

“If the House of Commons wishes to vote for an extension we will table the necessary statutory instrument that is required,” he said.

“But we can’t do that until it has been agreed by the EU Council.

“We cannot just unilaterally extend Article 50.

“It has to be agreed with the European Council.”

Lord Newby, Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, said that following the decision by MPs to rule out no-deal the government should withdraw all statutory instruments that would implement no-deal provisions as it was a “complete waste of parliamentary time”.

But Lord Callanan rejected his demand “because the law of the land, as is currently constituted, says we leave the EU on March 29”.

Labour former minister Lord Foulkes of Cumnock said there was absolutely no way that the UK could leave the EU at the end of the month.

“Irrespective of what happens in the Commons there’s no way the legislation can get through,” he said.

Lord Callanan said legislation passed by parliament stated the UK would leave on March 29, adding: “That may change but at the moment that is the legal position.”

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Campbell of Pittenweem asked: “What importance does the government now attach to the doctrine of cabinet responsibility?”

Labour’s Lord Adonis took the unusual step of seeking to adjourn the upper chamber arguing against further consideration of contingency no-deal regulations when MPs had rejected leaving the EU without an agreement.

The Labour former cabinet minister said it was “hugely diverting” for Whitehall as well as very expensive, with no-deal preparations costing taxpayers more than £4 billion.

Government chief whip in the Lords, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, said while the Commons continued its deliberations the “best thing for this House to do is to continue with a thorough and measured scrutiny of the legislation before it”.

He said: “Until there is legal certainty ... the government is behaving entirely responsibly by continuing to prepare for all eventualities.”

His Labour counterpart in the Lords, Lord McAvoy, said Lord Adonis’ argument had “some merit”, but added: “With the threat (of no-deal) still there it is essential we carry on until things become more clearer.”

The Liberal Democrats also did not currently back an adjournment.

Lord Adonis withdrew his motion without pressing to it a vote.

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