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British govt suffers defeat by House of Lords over Brexit Bill

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LONDON • The upper chamber of Britain’s Parliament has inflicted a symbolic defeat on the government over Brexit legislation that critics claim trashes the nation’s reputation as a defender of the rule of law.

The government’s internal market Bill is designed to regulate trade among the country’s four constituent nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – after Brexit.

But it unilaterally rewrites the divorce treaty that Britain struck with the European Union last year, sparking legal action from the 27-nation bloc.

The Bill has already passed the more powerful House of Commons but in the House of Lords, peers including Anglican archbishops voted by a majority of 226 on Tuesday to express their “regret” over its treaty-breaching provisions.

While the vote did not alter the Bill’s language, it sets the stage for detailed scrutiny by the lords in the coming weeks. Many want to strip out those elements, triggering a legislative tussle with the Commons before the Bill can become law.

Mr Michael Howard, a former leader of the ruling Conservative Party and a prominent Brexiteer, was among the dissident peers who voted for the motion against the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“I want the United Kingdom to be an independent and sovereign state,” Mr Howard said during the debate. “But I want it to be an independent sovereign state that holds its head up high in the world, that keeps its word, that upholds the rule of law, that honours its treaty obligations.”

The government argues the law is needed to prevent Britain’s internal market fragmenting once the country is free of EU rules in 2021, in particular regarding Northern Ireland.

But the territory is meant to enjoy a special post-Brexit status in consultation with Brussels because it shares a border with EU member Ireland.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE