Peter Mandelson has warned the government to expect a fierce battle as the Lords begin considering legislation that will trigger Brexit.
Lord Mandelson said opposition peers were prepared to inflict defeat on the government over the final vote on the terms of Brexit, despite pressure to wave through legislation on Article 50.
The former EU commissioner and minister in Tony Blair’s government said peers should “not throw in the towel early”, telling colleagues to fight for guarantees on the future of EU nationals living in the UK, and to secure a “meaningful” vote on the final Brexit deal in which MPs could send the government back to negotiate a better arrangement.
His comments came as another Labour peer, Peter Hain, said he was ready to force amendments to the Article 50 bill to keep the UK in the single market and keep the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Opposition peers were warned against snarling up the Brexit process by Justice Secretary Liz Truss, who told Lord Mandelson to “move on” and refused to rule out using the Parliament Act to override the Lords and force legislation through.
“I fully expect the House of Lords will recognise the will of the people and the will of the House of Commons, which was overwhelming, to pass that legislation,” Ms Truss told the Andrew Marr Show.
Two days of debate on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in the Lords begin today, with amendments considered next week. The Lords can send an amended bill back to the Commons and delay its passage, but cannot push through changes themselves.
There are just 252 Conservatives among the 805 peers in the Lords, giving the opposition and independent crossbenchers a chance to inflict defeats. Lord Mandelson told the Marr Show that there was a “strong body of opinion” on EU nationals and the status of the final Brexit vote.
“At the end of the day, the House of Commons must prevail because it is the elected chamber,” he said. “But I hope the House of Lords will not throw in the towel early.”
Polling by ICM for the campaign group Change Britain found that support for reform of the House of Lords would increase if peers obstruct or delay Brexit.
The survey found 43 per cent of respondents would be more likely to back abolition or reform of the second chamber compared to 12 per cent who are less likely in such circumstances.
“Peers would be wise to consider this clear democratic mandate, and their own futures, when debating the Article 50 Bill this week,” Tory MP Dominic Raab said.