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PM appears in Lords as peers debate Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May made a brief appearance in the House of Lords as peers in the upper chamber started debating the Government’s Brexit bill.

In an unusual step, Mrs May sat in front of the Royal Throne as junior minister Baroness Williams of Trafford told the Lords to respect the decision of the British people in the referendum and the “primacy” of the elected House of Commons.

Mrs May took up her position, which she is permitted to do as a member of the Privy Council, as peers begin debating the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.

The legislation, which will allow the PM to trigger Article 50 and formally begin Brexit, was passed unamended by a large majority of 372 MPs.

Mrs May’s presence in the Lords ahead of two days of debate during the bill’s first stage in the upper chamber will be interpreted as a visual warning to peers seeking to change the legislation.

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The PM earlier said she does not want to see anyone holding up “what the British people want”.

Asked whether the House of Lords vote on the bill to trigger Britain’s withdrawal might delay the process, she said: “When the Bill to allow the Government to trigger Article 50 to start the Brexit process went through the House of Commons it went through with good majorities.

“It was not amended. I hope that the House of Lords will pay attention to that.

“Properly there will be debate and scrutiny in the House of Lords, but I don’t want to see anybody holding up what the British people want, what the people of Stoke-on-Trent voted for last year, which is for us to deliver Brexit, to leave the European Union.”

Mrs May was speaking as she visited the Emma Bridgewater factory in Stoke-on-Trent on Monday to campaign ahead of Thursday’s by-election.

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Around 190 peers are expected to speak during the two days of debate pencilled in for the bill, but the main parliamentary battle is not expected to happen until next week.

This is when peers will have the opportunity to vote on the amendments that have been tabled during the bill’s committee stage.

Downing Street acknowledged peers have an “important constitutional role” scrutinising the legislation, but said the PM remains confident of triggering Article 50, the formal mechanism for leaving the EU, by the end of March.

“What the Lords do is a matter for the Lords. We have been clear in our view that this is a short Bill designed to enact the will of the British people to start the process by which we exit the EU,” a Number 10 spokesman said.

“It passed through the Commons unamended after what was a robust and healthy debate among MPs and I anticipate that you will see a similar debate in the Lords.”

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