The House of Lords just handed Theresa May her second parliamentary defeat on Brexit

Mark Sands
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The State Opening Of Parliament
The UK voted to leave the European Union on 23 June. (Source: Getty)

The House of Lords has inflicted a second Brexit defeat on Prime Minister Theresa May, amending her Article 50 Bill in a bid to force the government to offer a “meaningful” vote on quitting the EU.

After three hours of occasionally fractious debate, peers voted 366 to 268 in favour of the change.

A handful of Conservative peers had already declared their intention to rebel against the government to force through the amendment, including the former Tory minister Lord Heseltine, but the debate also saw some of the big beasts of the party clash over the UK's future.

Read More: Theresa May warns peers against encouraging a bad Brexit deal

Heseltine said the amendment would “ensure that parliament is the ultimate custodian of our national sovereignty”.

“It ensures that parliament has the critical role in determining the future that we will bequeath to generations of young people,” he added.”

However, former home secretary Lord Howard branded the amendment as “unnecessary”, adding it risked putting the government in the “absurd” position of bouncing between Westminster and the European parliament as it seeks to finalise the terms of Brexit.

Read More: Theresa May: No, William Hague. We are not having a snap election

Similarly, in ill-tempered exchanges, former minister Lord Forsyth referenced Gulliver's Travels as he accused backers of the motion of seeking to tie down the Prime Minister “by her hair, by her arms, by her legs, by every conceivable way.”

And indicating Lord Pannick, the QC who argued for Gina Miller in the Supreme Court ruling which forced May to publish the Bill, Forsyth said: “This is a clever lawyer's confection to reverse the results of the referendum.”

It comes less than a week after the House of Lords handed the government an initial slap-down, amending the Bill to include protections for the rights of EU nationals in the UK.

However, all changes made by the Lords will need approval by MPs before the legislation can be passed, and the House of Commons has already rejected similar amendments in the course of its own debates.

Responding to tonight's vote, Brexit secretary David Davis said: “It is disappointing that the House of Lords has chosen to make further changes to a Bill that the Commons passed without amendment. It has a straightforward purpose - to enact the referendum result and allow the government to get on with negotiating a new partnership with the EU.

“It is clear that some in the Lords would seek to frustrate that process, and it is the government's intention to ensure that does not happen. We will now aim to overturn these amendments in the House of Commons."

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