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UK government defeated after Lords vote for powers to reject hard Irish border

“We cannot risk Conservative incompetence and Brexit dogma creating a hard border,” one Lord said.

Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.
Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.
Image: PA

THE UK’S HOUSE of Lords has voted to give parliament powers to reject any Brexit deal that would include a hard border in Ireland, in another significant blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s government.

The vote in favour of the amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill was passed 309 votes for and 242 against – the 10th defeat for the government on the significant Brexit bill.

The amendment would prevent the UK government agreeing to a Brexit that could be interpreted as threatening the Good Friday Agreement.

The Guardian reports that senior Conservative Chris Patten said Brexiteers in his party are “playing with fire” and pursuing a policy in Northern Ireland “that is sometimes clueless”.

Liberal Democrat leader in the upper house Lord Newby said:

This vote has recognised what Theresa May hasn’t: that the issue of the Northern Ireland border is of paramount importance.
We cannot risk Conservative incompetence and Brexit dogma creating a hard border, and we will not allow years of strong relations within these islands to be jeopardised by Brexit.

Speaking in the House of Commons earlier today, May repeated that Britain wanted to develop its own independent trade policy and avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

These two things clash, however: the first requires leaving the customs union meaning custom checks would be needed between Ireland and the North; and the second would mean any physical infrastructure is ruled out.

She said that she wanted to ensure as frictionless trade as possible with the rest of the bloc, without outlining how this could be possible – something for which she has been criticised for repeatedly by EU representatives and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

She did reveal today that there were “a number of ways in which that could be delivered”, with her spokesman adding:

“Work has been ongoing on two options. Ideas are obviously evolving as we go along.”

But Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads the pro-Brexit European Research Group of up to 60 Conservative MPs, said one of the proposed options was “deeply unsatisfactory”.

Earlier today, Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that there was a risk that the EU and UK wouldn’t strike a deal by October.

He added that the “sands were still shifting” but that a lot of progress still needed to be made before the UK officially leaves the EU next year.

- with reporting from AFP

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