LONDON — Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill was approved by the House of Commons and will now be discussed in the House of Lords.
MPs on Thursday voted 330 to 231 in favor of moving the bill to the upper house of parliament, although the peers are not expected to cause any trouble for Johnson or do anything that might delay the passage of the bill.
Closing a parliamentary debate ahead of the vote, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay urged peers to take into consideration December’s general election result, which gave the Conservatives an 80-seat Commons majority.
“I anticipate constructive scrutiny, as we would expect in the other place [the Lords], but I have no doubt that their lordships will have heard the resounding message from the British people on December 12,” he said.
The bill, which enables the U.K. to leave the EU on January 31 and outlaws extending the Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020, was passed despite opposition from the Labour Party. Shadow Brexit minister Paul Blomfield warned the government to approach the next stage of Brexit “with sensitivity and with caution.”
“The decision of the general election isn’t a mandate to bulldoze through a particular version at any cost on all the people of the United Kingdom, and the next few months need to be approached with sensitivity and with caution if we are to stay together as a United Kingdom,” Blomfield said.
On Monday, members of the House of Lords will debate the general outlines of the bill, in what is known as second reading. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday have been set aside for what is called committee stage, where line-by-line scrutiny of the legislation takes place.
Parliamentary oversight is expected to be the most important topic for peers, some of whom are concerned about Johnson’s removal from the bill of an entire section on parliament’s role in the negotiations with the EU.
“If this bill goes through in its current form, it will set precedent for how the government might want to regard parliamentary oversight of completely different bills in the future,” said Michael Jay, a former diplomat and crossbench peer. “There is an issue here which is not necessarily related to the withdrawal bill but is potentially important for future bills as well.”
Labour peers will ask the government to reconsider the length of the transition period, according to Dianne Hayter, shadow deputy Labour leader in the Lords. The transition is due to end in December and Johnson says he won’t ask for an extension. “We will be in a way sowing the seed for the realization that this transition period will have to be further extended,” Hayter said at an Institute of Government event Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Labour peer Alf Dubs is preparing to introduce an amendment to allow unaccompanied child refugees to continue to be reunited with their families in the U.K. after Brexit day. The Johnson government re-drafted the bill to remove such a provision.
Dubs, who was a refugee as a child, said he hoped to force Johnson to reconsider the issue, saying “there is a good chance for achieving in the Lords what the opposition couldn’t do in the Commons.”
Speaking in the Commons Thursday morning, Barclay said the government remains committed to helping unaccompanied children. “What the bill is doing is returning to the traditional approach where the government undertakes the negotiations and parliament scrutinizes that, rather than parliament setting the terms in the way that happened under the previous parliament,” he said.
The peers are not expected to delay the passage of the bill. Under the Salisbury Convention, the Lords are not meant to oppose the second or third reading of any government legislation promised in its election manifesto.
“The bill will clearly pass and I don’t think this is an issue where the House of Lords should resist the House of Commons,” Labour peer Andrew Adonis said.