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Trying to prevent Brexit

Birgit Maass London
February 20, 2017

Is there anything that can still be done to prevent Brexit? Yes, Lord Richard Newby, a passionate pro-European, tells DW, as the Brexit bill is debated in the House of Lords.

Großbritannien Brexit Debatte Richard Newby Kritiker
Lord Newby: 'We have nothing to lose, and that makes us dangerous. We are not afraid to fight.'Image: DW/B. Maas

DW: The government was able to push the Brexit bill through the House of Commons without much resistance. Now it is your turn to debate it. But what can you actually achieve?

Lord Newby: We would like to make a few amendments to the bill: First, we want to see the rights of EU citizens in the UK guaranteed. The other important issue is about a meaningful vote in parliament at the end of the negotiations. And I would like there to be another referendum so the people can decide whether they want to accept the deal, or whether they would like to stay in the EU.

Poles in England returning home post-Brexit

It doesn't look like the government is ready to make any concessions, though. Similar amendments were already voted down in the House of Commons.

The government is not in a hugely strong position, there are many Members of Parliament who are sympathetic to our cause. Historically, the government accepts a high proportion of amendments by the House of Lords. We need to try everything we can. What is the point of us being here if we don't stand up for what we believe in? My guess is that the House if Lords is 85 percent for remaining in the EU. We are older than Members of Parliament, and many of us fought to join the EU all those years ago - it is a hugely important issue for us.

So you are doing the job that many MPs were too timid to do?

We are fortunate that our careers don't depend on what we decide. If you are a pro-European Labour MP with a young family, and your constituency voted for Brexit, you are facing a lot of pressure. But we have nothing to lose, and that makes us dangerous. We are not afraid to fight.

But what can you do when push comes to shove - you could only delay the bill, is that what you want?

That would be in nobody's interest, that would just mean more uncertainties, we won't do that. We really do want to push our amendments through. We are also playing a long game: We want to change public opinion, we want to give credence to the idea of a further vote at the end of the process. Already, we have seen a few polls coming out in the past weeks that show that opinion on Brexit is shifting. Suppose that at the end of the negotiations every single poll would be in favor of staying - how could the government not listen to that?

There have been threats that the House of Lords could be abolished if you try and somehow thwart what Brexiteers describe as "the will of the people."

That is mere saber rattling. A reform of the House of Lords would be a huge issue, there is no time to get anything like that off the ground at the moment when Brexit is such a pressing issue.

If your amendments got accepted and the Brexit process was going to change as a result, there would be huge resentment in the Brexit camp.

Yes. But there is also a rising degree of anger among the pro-Europeans, that they are not being heard. We should not be preoccupied with the thought that people will hate us, and to think that it will be too difficult to influence Brexit. The only way to dissipate all the fury is to have another vote, so no one is to blame in the end. That is the central principle: Parliament and people should have another vote in the end to give legitimacy to the Brexit process.

Lord Newby is leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.

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Birgit Maass DW UK Correspondent@birgit_maass