Revealed: Adonis’ “poisonous” plot to ambush the EU Withdrawal Bill

Revealed: Adonis’ “poisonous” plot to ambush the EU Withdrawal Bill

Having passed through the House of Commons with only one Government defeat, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is destined for a far rougher ride in the House of Lords, given the abundance of committed pro-EU supporters from Lord Heseltine to Lord Adonis. The Government has no majority in the Lords, with only 248 Conservative peers out of 794 – including a disproportionately high 100 Liberal Democrats peers – making some defeats on Lords amendments almost inevitable.

In a statement of intent ahead of the EU Withdrawal Bill arriving in the Lords for Second Reading next week, Labour peer Lord Adonis has revealed plans to disrupt the passage of the Bill before the debate has even begun. In an email to fellow Lords seen by BrexitCentral, Adonis writes that he is tabling a motion to double the time for debating the Second Reading of the Bill after failing to secure agreement from the Government Chief Whip, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who remains committed to the original timetable of two days’ debate on 30th and 31st January – the same length of time allotted for debate on the Bill at this stage in the House of Commons. He writes:

“Two days is seriously inadequate, in my opinion. Even if the debate starts at 10am or 11am on both days, it will require a very tight ‘advisory’ time limit on speeches… If there is not a reasonable prior resolution, I am minded to move this motion before the debate so that the House itself – not the Government – can decide how it wishes this business to be conducted.”

Timings for House of Lords debates are typically set by agreement between the Whips’ Offices of the different groupings in the Lords – Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and Crossbenchers.

Adonis acknowledges that he “is aware, as a former minister, of the seriousness of this step”, with one peer privately describing his intervention to BrexitCentral as “poisonous”.

The EU Withdrawal Bill was given ten further days of debate after Second Reading in the House of Commons during Committee Stage, Report Stage and Third Reading – a timetable which is likely to be replicated if not extended in the Lords. Further debate will follow after these stages in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords if the Bill enters “ping pong” over any new amendments added by the Lords.

Another peer dismissed it as a “naked attempt to filibuster”, adding: “it is a technical Bill rather than a vehicle for major policy changes so there is no need for a longer debate.”

Adonis’ further complaint that the current timetable could lead to the “inappropriate” situation of peers being required to stay after 11pm to vote on the Bill is unlikely to garner much sympathy from the public. Nor is there much doubt about which way Adonis himself will be voting, regardless of how much time is devoted to debate of the Bill.

While this intervention, if successful, would only serve to hold up the EU Withdrawal Bill for a few days, it is a clear signal that the Government needs to be braced for similar procedural “guerrilla warfare” from pro-Remain peers as it attempts to navigate the Bill through the hazardous waters of the House of Lords.