Last night the Government suffered a heavy defeat when peers voted overwhelmingly to remove clauses from a bill that could undermine the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU.
They voted 433 to 165 to remove a section of the UK Internal Market Bill that would allow ministers to break international law.
Some 44 Tory rebels voted against the Government, including Theresa May’s ex-chief of staff Gavin Barwell, former chancellor Ken Clarke and former Conservative Party leaders William Hague and Michael Howard.
Peers also voted to remove another clause, allowing ministers to override parts of the agreement relating to Northern Ireland, by 407 votes to 148. Those against included up to 38 Tories. All other controversial provisions were removed without votes.
Lord Barwell told the Standard: “I don’t see any positives that come from those clauses.
“I’m clear from what I’ve been told that they were put into the bill in the belief that they would get the EU to make a concession in terms of the negotiations. They clearly haven’t done that. “
He said the clauses were affecting the UK’s ability to get a trade deal with the EU and “rule out” any possible trade deal with the US while “damaging relations” with the new Joe Biden administration.
He added: “I could not in any good conscience support those clauses remaining in the bill.
“What I hope will happen now is that the Government will agree a deal with the EU on our future trading relationship and that will mean that even from the Government’s point of view they are not necessary and they can be quietly dropped and common sense can prevail.”
He also said the clauses “damage” the UK’s standing in the world, adding: “I want the Prime Minister to get a deal and deliver the Brexit deal that he fought and won the General Election on.
“I wish him all the best of luck as he’s trying to conclude the negotiations and I hope he gets a deal and then he will be able to not have to return to this issue which I think was a mistake.”
Asked if his peers would stand firm, he replied: “The scale of the margin last night suggests a very strong feeling in the Lords that these clauses shouldn’t be reintroduced.”
Tory MP Sir Roger Gale wrote on Twitter this morning: “When Michael Howard QC and Ken Clarke QC agree that the Government’s Internal Markets Bill is unlawful it’s time for Downing Street to listen.
“I voted against the bill in the Commons and will support the Lords amendment if it comes to a vote. I trust that this time more will join me.”
Following the vote, the Government immediately insisted it would not back down and would re-table the clauses when the bill returns to the Commons in December.
A spokeswoman said: “We’ve been consistently clear that the clauses represent a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market and the huge gains of the peace process.
“We expect the House of Lords to recognise that we have an obligation to the people of Northern Ireland to make sure they continue to have unfettered access to the UK under all circumstances.”
Labour’s leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Angela Smith said: “The Government should see sense, accept the removal of these offending clauses, and start to rebuild our international reputation.”
It comes after Tory former prime minister Sir John Major said the UK Internal Market Bill had “damaged our reputation around the world”.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told BBC2’s Newsnight the UK Government’s stance had “undermined trust”.
The Government has previously admitted the Bill gives it powers to break international law in a “very specific and limited way”. That admission prompted Mr Biden to warn at the height of his election campaign that a trade deal with the US was “contingent” on preventing any return to a hard border through the island of Ireland.