Lords vote to change Boris Johnson's controversial Brexit Bill but PM expected to press ahead regardless

Boris Johnson is digging his heels in on the Brexit bill Credit: PA

Peers in the House of Lords have voted to recommend changes to Boris Johnson's controversial UK Internal Market Bill, but it is believed the prime minister will press ahead with his Brexit plans regardless.

Peers voted by a majority of 268 to alter remove the contentious parts of the UK Internal Market Bill, as Conservative former leader Lord Howard of Lympne warned the government is using the language of "lawbreakers" everywhere.

They voted to strip out powers from the Bill that would enable ministers to break international law.

Ahead of the vote, Lord Howard told ITV News any issues the government now has with the Bill should have been sorted before it was agreed on

Cross-party amendments were tabled to strike out clauses linked to the most contentious part of the Bill, namely part five, which gives ministers the power to breach the Brexit divorce deal – known as the Withdrawal Agreement – brokered with Brussels last year.

The House of Lords voted 433 to 165, majority 268, to remove clause 42 – one of the disputed sections – and clause 43 was removed without a vote.

They then voted 407 votes to 148, majority 259 to remove clause 44, relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

All the other controversial clauses were removed without votes.

The defeats are thought to be among the biggest suffered by the government in the Lords for several years.

Ministers had insisted powers to override the Withdrawal Agreement are needed to protect the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but critics argue the powers are not necessary.

What is the UK Internal Market Bill and why is it controversial?

Baroness Angela Smith, Labour’s leader in the House of Lords, said in a statement: “I am sure some in Government will initially react with bravado and try to dismiss tonight’s historic votes in the Lords.

“To do so, however, would underestimate the genuine and serious concerns across the UK and beyond about ministers putting themselves above and beyond the rule of law.

“The Government should see sense, accept the removal of these offending clauses, and start to rebuild our international reputation.”

The division list showed 44 Conservative peers rebelled to vote to remove clause 42 from the Bill.

They included Lord Howard, ex-Brexit minister Lord Bridges of Headley and former chief whip Lord Young of Cookham.

Those opposing clause 42 of the Bill also included nine bishops, 115 independent crossbenchers, 156 Labour peers and 81 Liberal Democrats.

A further 38 Conservative peers rebelled to oppose clause 44.

Environment Secretary George Eustice earlier suggested to ITV News the government would be sticking with the legislation in its original form, regardless of what recommendations were made by the Lords.

Mr Eustice said the government "wouldn't be accepting" suggested changes to the Bill because "the UK Internal Market Bill (UKIM), as drafted, is important and these particular clauses ensure that we can have legal clarity and legal certainty".

The prime minister's official spokesperson hinted that the government would seek to implement the Bill in its original form but any Lords' amendments "will be considered".

They said the government considers the UK Internal Market Bill a "vital safety net" which protects UK trade.

Members of the House of Lords, the European Union and many opposition MPs, had taken issue with clauses of the UKIM Bill because, as the government admitted, they allow the UK to break international law in a "very specific and limited way".

The Bill will now be sent back to the Commons for review, where MPs can decide whether to implement the Lords' recommendations or ignore them.

The Bill is controversial because it would allow the UK to override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement - signed by both the UK and EU in October - relating to customs and state aid in Northern Ireland (the Northern Ireland Protocol).

The Northern Ireland Protocol was set up to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland by allowing the free flow of goods and services between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Biden warned during his successful campaign against Donald Trump that a trade deal with the US is "contingent" on the prevention of a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Critics of the Bill say it puts at risk the Good Friday Agreement - the treaty that secured peace on the island of Ireland.

But Environment Secretary Eustice insisted to ITV News the Bill is "crucial to standing by the Good Friday Agreement" because "it ensures that we can have economic and social stability in Northern Ireland.

Mr Biden, who is of Irish heritage, has warned that the agreement cannot "become a casualty of Brexit".

Prime Minister Johnson, who is yet to secure a phone call with the incoming Democratic president, has insisted that the Bill is designed to "protect and uphold the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland".

He says the legislation is simply a safety net and would not be used if an agreement was reached between the UK and EU before the end of the transition period on December 31.

But the EU has initiated legal action against the UK over breaches to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, at the start of October, confirmed "infringement procedures" had been launched.

“This draft bill is, by its very nature, a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement."

She added: "The commission have decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK Government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure.”

Meanwhile, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will resume talks on a post-Brexit trade deal with Downing Street counterpart Lord Frost in London this week.

Mr Barnier tweeted that that he was "happy to be back" in the capital, with the two teams "redoubling our efforts" for an agreement.

He listed the three major sticking points - governance, the level playing field and fishing policies - as the three "keys to unlock a deal".

Mr Eustice said he "absolutely" believes a trade deal with the EU can still be done.

But time is running out. The Brexit transition period ends on December 31 however both sides say an agreement must be reached before then if it is to be put in place before the UK leaves the Customs Union and single market.

"We're in the final stages now," Mr Eustice said, "it has to come soon if it's to happen at all - we'll see how the talks go this week."

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