May Faces Defeat Over Fixed Brexit Date in U.K. House of Lords

(Bloomberg) -- Opposition lawmakers and rebels in Theresa May’s Conservative Party aim to push through two changes to the premier’s flagship Brexit legislation Tuesday, continuing its bruising passage through the House of Lords.

Peers are seeking to amend the draft law to remove the fixed timing of Brexit at 11 p.m. on March 29 next year, and to enable future governments to participate in European Union agencies after the U.K. leaves the bloc.

It’s the penultimate session for the bill in the upper chamber, where members have voted 10 times already in favor of amendments -- including to compel ministers to seek a form of customs union with the EU, to curtail ministerial powers, and to expand the scope of a meaningful parliamentary vote on the final deal.

Though all of the changes can be reversed when the legislation returns to the House of Commons, it’s not clear there’s appetite in the lower chamber to do so. At least 10 Conservative lawmakers have put their names to an amendment on a separate piece of legislation in support of staying in a customs union -- enough to defeat the government on the Lords amendment on the same topic.

Tory rebels in the Commons also helped defeat the government to insert the provision for the meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal, before the bill moved to the Lords.

Labour’s Brexit spokeswoman, Dianne Hayter, who has successfully predicted all of the government’s losses to date, foresees Tuesday’s amendments going the same way. As before, the amendments are co-sponsored by peers across the political spectrum.

The vote on EU agencies is expected at about 4 p.m. in London, and the vote on the fixed Brexit date probably following a couple of hours later.

After Tuesday’s sixth and final debate at the “report stage” of the bill in the Lords, it will have a so-called third reading on May 16. Further amendments are still possible at that stage: Labour has said a debate on environmental protections is “one to watch.”

It then returns to the Commons, where lawmakers must decide whether to accept the amendments or send it back to the Lords for further consideration. Of course, even if Parliament should decide to change the date, the other 27 EU countries would have to unanimously agree to it too -- the U.K. alone wanting it would not make it happen.

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