The government has insisted its timetable for triggering Article 50 and leaving the European Union (EU) is on track, despite a defeat in the House of Lords supported by the Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders.
On Wednesday, the Lords voted 358 to 256 to amend the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, demanding the rights of EU citizens in the UK are guaranteed regardless of the status of British citizens in the EU.
When former Conservative minister Lord Tebbit pointed out the House was prioritising the interests of “foreigners” over Brits, he was booed.
In November last year, EU leaders rejected an offer to do an early deal guaranteeing residency rights for British expats in Europe.
Lord Tebbit says the Government should be more concerned about its own citizens after Brexit, not those from EU countries living in the UK pic.twitter.com/eHIZCWmKno
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) March 1, 2017
The government said it was “disappointed” by the Lords’ amendment, and will now have to choose between trying to overturn the measure in the Commons or agreeing to guarantee the rights of the 3.2 million EU citizens here.
Emboldened by the sizeable defeat in the Lords, as many as 30 Tory MPs could join a rebellion in the House of Commons, possibly delaying Brexit or forcing the government to include the amendment, Baroness Meacher, a crossbench peer, told BBC Radio 4.
However, ministers told Sky News they remain confident Article 50 will be invoked by the 31st of this month, with a spokesman for the Brexit Department commenting:
“The bill has a straightforward purpose – to enact the referendum result and allow the Government to get on with the negotiations.”
The bill is expected to return to the Commons on 13 and 14 March. A similar amendment has already been rejected by MPs, and if they do so again, it will then “ping pong” back to the Lords. The Lords may not reject it again.
The leaders of both the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties welcomed the move, despite the latter claiming to support the Brexit bill.
“Great news. The government must now do the decent thing and guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK,” tweeted Jeremy Corbyn.
Tim Faron added: “PM must listen to vote on EU citizens. I guarantee that @libdems will keep trooping through the lobbies time after time to defend EU citizens.”
Great news. The government must now do the decent thing and guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK https://t.co/HWJUfxfqRl
— Jeremy Corbyn MP (@jeremycorbyn) March 1, 2017
PM must listen to vote on EU citizens.I guarantee that @libdems will keep trooping through the lobbies time after time to defend EU citizens
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) March 1, 2017