Labour’s deputy leader in the House of Lords has accused Tory Brexiters of organising a filibuster to try to halt the progress of a backbench bill to stop a no-deal Brexit, a move which she said had the tacit support of the government.
Lady Hayter, the Labour peer who will steer the bill to extend article 50 through the Lords after its narrow victory in the Commons late on Wednesday night, said the bill would not stop Brexit, but would prevent a no-deal Brexit.
“It’s been passed by the Commons … we should not be trying to hold it up,” Hayter told Sky News. “There is unfortunately a filibuster being organised by Conservatives to try to talk out this bill, they are getting a bit of support, in fact quite a lot of support from the government which I think is fairly shameful.”
The European Union (withdrawal) (no 5) bill, tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative Oliver Letwin, squeaked through the House of Commons by the tiniest margin – just one vote.
Speaking later in the Lords, Hayter said the government had lost the support of the House of Commons and was refusing to follow the instructions of the Lords to proceed with the bill, to chants of “sit down” from the Tory benches opposite.
Lord Forsyth, the Conservative former cabinet minister, one of the peers leading the opposition, said suspending standing orders to fast-track a bill in this way could lead to “tyranny” and criticised how it was passed in the Commons by just one vote, including the vote of the former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, a convicted criminal wearing an electronic tag.
“This is a major constitutional matter. It was passed by one vote,” he said.
After other peers admonished Forsyth, he continued: “I said this practice of suspending our standing orders will lead to tyranny. He mocks me. He said: ‘Tyranny, how ridiculous.’ All that lies between us and tyranny is that we respect the conventions of both houses. Why do we do that? Because it is our constitution.”
The House of Lords is now expected to sit until the early hours of the morning, with Labour peers saying they are prepared to sit all night if necessary in order to ensure the bill passes all stages in a single sitting.
MPs in the Commons sat until midnight to pass the bill through its second reading, committee stage and third reading in a single day, after a lengthy procedural debate about whether it should proceed at all.
Labour sources are confident the bill has the support to pass through the Lords despite fierce opposition from pro-Brexit Tory peers.
Downing Street said peers should think carefully before passing the Cooper-Letwin bill to protect against a no-deal Brexit, arguing that asking parliament to approve any extension to article 50 could actually increase the risk of no deal by accident.
No 10 did not explicitly endorse the filibuster in the Lords by Conservative peers but asked them to scrutinise it thoroughly.
“If passed, this bill would place a severe constraint on the government’s ability to negotiate an extension and reflect this new date in UK statute books by 12 April,” Theresa May’s spokesman said.
“On Wednesday next week, the European council could propose an extension of an alternative length to that put forward by parliament, and under the bill the prime minister would have to return on Thursday 11 April to put that proposal to the house.
“By 11 April, the European council will have concluded and the leaders will have returned to their member states. In the words of the secretary of state, the bill could increase the risk of an accidental no-deal exit.
“The bill is going to go through the House of Lords today. I’m sure the House of Lords will want to look at the issues that the secretary of state has raised.”