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UK's May faces Lords defeat over vote on final Brexit deal
[LONDON] UK Prime Minister Theresa May faces a new setback in her effort to trigger Brexit as lawmakers demand more power to shape the final deal she reaches with the European Union.
The House of Lords is set to defeat Mrs May in a vote on Tuesday, re-writing her draft law to guarantee a parliamentary veto if the deal she makes is not considered good enough.
Lawmakers would also be able to stop Mrs May walking away from talks with no deal under the amendment, which the unelected upper house is expected to pass during its scrutiny of the bill.
"I have said all along that we would not block Brexit, while reserving our right to challenge and scrutinise any legislation put before us," said Angela Smith, the opposition Labour Party's leader in the Lords.
Mrs May's government could face new court challenges if Parliament is not "properly engaged in the process" of shaping the Brexit deal, she said.
Mrs May is vulnerable to a defeat in the Lords because the 252 Conservative members are outnumbered by Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent, or "crossbench," peers.
They started debating at 11am Tuesday with a Liberal Democrat proposal for the bill to guarantee a referendum on the eventual Brexit agreement.
"Only the people should take the final decision," Dick Newby, leader of the party in the Lords, told lawmakers on Tuesday.
"In asking the people to do this, we are not sidelining Parliament. Parliament should clearly vote and debate on all the options at the end of the negotiating process."
Mr Newby was backed by former Labour cabinet minister Peter Hain, and a member of Mrs May's Conservatives, Patience Wheatcroft, who both said that the process had begun with a referendum, so should end with one.
Ms Wheatcroft said the government shouldn't be "blind" to changing circumstances during two years of exit talks.
"I cannot see why any government would be so adamant about a course of action with no knowledge of the circumstances" in which it might take place, Wheatcroft said.
"The only sensible way to bring the process to an end is to put the terms to the public. The public needs to see what's on offer."
Other amendments up for discussion include one calling for the government to provide quarterly updates to Parliament on the Brexit negotiations, another seeking to guarantee the rights of people in Northern Ireland to claim Irish citizenship, and two seeking Parliamentary votes on the final Brexit deal.
Peers last week defeated Mrs May with another amendment on the rights of EU citizens.
The amendment to guarantee a meaningful vote is almost certain to win support in spite of the government's opposition.
This is because it has the backing of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and rebels in Mrs May's ruling Conservative Party, including former Cabinet minister Douglas Hogg.
Mrs May's team argues that giving legislators the power to veto the final Brexit deal and send the premier back to the negotiating table to ask for something better would undermine her.
She wants the 137-word draft to go through Parliament without changes so she can formally kick off the divorce proceedings by her self-imposed deadline of March 31.
Mrs May is likely to ask the lower house to delete the Lords' amendments when the bill returns there March 13. Her spokesman, James Slack, told reporters on Tuesday that the premier is "absolutely" on course to officially trigger Brexit negotiations by the end of March.
The government says the amendment would give European leaders a strong reason to offer Britain the worst possible agreement in order to try to stop the country leaving.
"Parliament has to respect the will of the British people," Mr Slack said on Monday.
"We should not commit to any process that would give the EU an incentive to offer us a bad deal."
Ministers have already promised to give Parliament a vote on whether to accept the final Brexit deal, but Mr Slack confirmed that this would be no more than "a vote on whether we accept the deal or leave without the deal".