Lord Kerr, Article 50 author, warns Brexit talks may fail

The House of Lords. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
The House of Lords. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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Brexit talks between the UK and the EU have a one-third chance of breaking down without a deal, the former diplomat who wrote the clause that will trigger Brexit has said.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, the Scottish crossbench peer who served as UK ambassador to the EU and drew up Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, said leaving without an agreement would be “much the worse deal”.

Speaking on the second day of debate in the House of Lords on legislation to trigger Article 50, Lord Kerr repeated his belief that the clause was revocable, meaning the two-year negotiation period could be extended to get a better deal, or Brexit could be called off entirely.

He said Article 50 was not an “expulsion procedure” and that “if having looked into the abyss we were to change our minds about withdrawal, we certainly could and no-one in Brussels could stop us”.

Lord Kerr warned the chances of talks breaking down was “well over 30 per cent” adding: “It’s a sad fact that it won’t be those who got us into this fix who will suffer. The Bullingdon boys will be just fine. The country may not be.”

Peers were last night expected to vote to give the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill a second reading ahead of three days of debate on possible amendments next week, with Labour and the Lib Dems seeking to extract concessions from the government on the status of a final vote on the terms of Brexit, and a guarantee for EU nationals in the UK.

If the House of Lords calls for changes to the bill, which passed the Commons unamended, it will go back to MPs for further debate.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick said those who voted to remain in the EU had a duty not to undermine the Government’s negotiating position on Brexit.

But he told peers: “I do not accept this argument that from now on those of us on the Remain side should sit back and say nothing and simply give the government a blank cheque to proceed.”
Labour QC Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws said it was a “distortion” to claim that the “people had spoken”, claiming this was a “degrading of public discourse and a poisoning of honest debate”.

She said: “I will support vital amendments and if they aren’t accepted I’m going to vote against this Bill. This House should be urging a rethink on this whole project. This House should be saying: not in our name.”