MPs vote down rebel Lords changes to Boris Johnson's Brexit deal

MPs vote down rebel Lords changes to Brexit deal including plans to help child refugees as Boris Johnson’s new majority flexes its muscles in bid to get legislation done and dusted

  • Peers had handed several vote defeats to Mr Johnson earlier this week
  • Today he used his 80-seat majority to over-rule the changes
  • All four amendments went down to hefty defeats at the hands of MPs 
  • One tabled by Labour peer Lord Dubs to safeguard the child refugees lost by 88

MPs rebuffed attempts by the House of Lords to alter Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal at the last minute today, voting down rebel amendments designed to soften the law ahead of departure.

Peers had handed several vote defeats to Mr Johnson earlier this week, including a demand that the UK take in child refugees who already have family in the UK. 

But in a series of votes in the Commons this afternoon, Boris Johnson used his 80-seat majority to over-rule the changes and get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) back on track.

All five amendments, including one tabled by Labour peer Lord Dubs designed to safeguard the child refugees, went down to hefty defeats – his lost by 88 votes.

Labour MP Andy Slaughter said: ‘Conservatives use their majority to block family reunion for refugee children. 

‘Hope their constituents remember this.’  

In a series of votes in the Commons this afternoon, Boris Johnson used his 80-seat majority to over-rule changes made by peers and get the legislation back on track

Peers handed several vote defeats to Mr Johnson earlier this week, including a demand that the UK take in child refugees who already have family in the UK, led by former child refugee Lord Dubs (centre)

Peers had defeated the Government on the rights of EU workers legally residing in the UK to have physical proof of their right to remain and the power of courts to depart from European Court of Justice rulings.

They also backed a proposal underlining the commitment to the so-called Sewel Convention, which states that the UK Parliament ‘will not normally’ legislate for devolved matters without the consent of the devolved legislature affected.

But all five amendments were comfortably reversed by MPs, with majorities ranging from 86 to 103.

During the debate on Wednesday, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the Government could not accept the Lords amendment on citizens’ rights as it would make the EU Settlement Scheme ‘null and void’.

Mr Barclay said: ‘This amendment would mean the successful EU Settlement Scheme in its current form would need to be abandoned. This is because there would be no need to register if people could later rely on a declaration that they were already in the UK.

‘This would make null and void the 2.8 million applications and the 2.5 million grants of status which have already been completed.’

Mr Barclay said the amendment would also mean the Government would be unable to issue ‘more secure’ digital documentation without physical documentation, adding: ‘This would increase the risk of fraud and raises the issue of cost to the Government and citizens.’

On child refugees, Mr Barclay defended the Government’s record before claiming: ‘Primary legislation cannot deliver the best outcomes for these children as it cannot guarantee that we reach an agreement and that is why this is ultimately a matter which must be negotiated with the EU and the Government is committed to seeking the best possible outcome in those negotiations.’ 

Lord Dubs received a promise from former Prime Minister Theresa May 2018 that his plan would be in the WAB but the step was removed from the Brexit legislation after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won his majority in the election last month.

The government says it intends to continue resettling child migrants in Britain after the country leaves the EU but argues that the issue does not belong in the withdrawal bill.  

Lord Dubs, who came from Nazi-occupied Europe to Britain as a child refugee, had earlier said the government was sending a ‘very negative’ signal.

He implored it not to use migrant children as ‘bargaining chips’ in the negotiations on future relations between the European Union and the UK.

Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent crossbench peers had ignored repeated ministerial warnings not to amend the Bill, insisting their objection was not to stop Brexit but to ensure the legislation was better drafted. 

The House of Commons has already approved the legislation and has the power to  overturn decisions by the non-elected Lords. 

The Lords can now seek to again briefly delay its passage into law with more so-called ‘parliamentary ping-pong’ or accept that they cannot win and stand aside.

Their rebellion has already held up passage of the WAB to getting Royal Assent from the Queen.     

This afternoon sources suggested they would back down, offering a clear path for the bill to become law. 

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