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Hague slams Tony Blair as Lords debate Brexit

William Hague has launched a scathing attack on Tony Blair’s call to Brexit opponents to “rise up”, as peers debate the Government’s Article 50 Bill in the House of Lords.

Any attempt to “rise up” against the result would lead to the most “bitter, potentially endless conflict” seen in British society for decades, the former foreign secretary claimed.

The two-day debate on the Bill’s second reading, in which nearly 200 peers will speak, began with the unusual sight of Prime Minister Theresa May sitting on the steps near the throne.

Although Government ministers are often seen listening to Lords debates on their own Bills, it is thought the last time a prime minister sat on the steps was John Major in 1990.

Tony Blair wants people to 'rise up' against Brexit
Video: Blair tells public to ‘rise up’ against Brexit

Earlier, in a warning to peers, Mrs May said: “This bill is not the place to try and shape the terms of our exit, restrict the Government’s hand before in enters into complex negotiations or attempt to re-run the referendum.”

Lord Hague said he voted Remain but supported the Article 50 Bill because the referendum had been decisive, with more people voting to leave the EU than for any British government in history.

And attacking Mr Blair, whom he faced across the Commons despatch box when he was Tory leader from 1997-2001, he said attempts to re-fight the referendum were a great error.

Lord Hague said: “As someone whose preference was to remain in the EU, my second preference, given that that is not available, is to leave it with some degree of unity and good order and confidence and determination.”

Lord Mandelson speaks during the House of Lords debate on Brexit
Video: Mandelson: Brexiteers did not vote for Govt plan

Peter Mandelson, Mr Blair’s closest ally, hit back and accused Leave supporters of fraud in some of their claims about trade.

He said: “Instead of saying we are leaving the European Union, but want the closest possible future relationship with the EU and meaning it, the Government has decided that we are out not just of the EU but we are fully out of the entirety of the single market as well.

“In other words, to all intent and purposes we are going to be out of Europe altogether and we are going to be the worse for that as a country.”

Lord Mandelson added: “We will not have the same trade. We will not have the equal benefits. To say otherwise is a fraud on the public.”

Theresa May in the House of Lords
Image Caption: Mrs May sat in front of the Royal Throne in the House of Lords

Earlier, Labour’s leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith, said her party would not stand in the way of the Bill’s passage but it would attempt to pass some amendments.

She told peers: “We will seek improvements, we’ll encourage ministers to make reasonable changes and possibly, just possibly, we may ask our colleagues in the other place to reconsider on specific issues.

“We have to have a serious and a responsible debate and in doing so if we ask the House of Commons to look again at an issue, it is not a constitutional outrage but a constitutional responsibility and it is the House of Commons that will as always, and quite rightly, have the final say.”

Former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson was later jeered as he warned against any “improper” amending of the Brexit Bill.

Boris Johnson calls for people to 'rise up' against Tony Blair
Video: Boris: Turn off the TV and ‘rise up’ against Blair

Opposition peers shouted “Shame!” as he said amendments already tabled did not seek to amend the Bill’s provisions but to “add to them substantially and perhaps delay the Bill”.

He warned: “In the unprecedented circumstances in which we find ourselves, I have to say that were the House to entertain any of the amendments it would have embarked on an ill-advised, improper and fundamentally unconstitutional manoeuvre.”

Lord Lawson also warned that a free trade deal with no strings attached was “unattainable” and the Government should “waste no time banging their heads against a brick wall” to get one.

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