BRATISLAVA (AFP) – Britain will still formally trigger its departure from the European Union by the end of March, the minister responsible for managing “Brexit” said Friday.
David Davis’s comments, during a visit to Bratislava, came just two days after a vote by the House of Lords called that date into question.
When asked by journalists about the date Davis said “Yes”, the conservative government would be able to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty by the end of this month.
A two-year period of negotiations will follow.
The House of Lords, Britain’s unelected upper chamber of parliament, voted Wednesday to amend and thereby delay the bill that would allow Prime Minister Theresa May to begin Brexit negotiations.
The Lords, where May’s Conservative Party does not hold a majority, have demanded guarantees for EU nationals living in Britain, a matter that the premier had wanted to tackle later.
The defeat means the bill must return to the lower House of Commons for deliberation, delaying final approval just weeks before the self-imposed deadline for starting Brexit negotiations.
At a joint press conference, Davis told Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico that the government wanted to preserve the rights of EU citizens now living in Britain.
“For existing citizens in the UK, we want something that is very close to or identical to that of the rights of British citizens in terms of rights of residence, access to welfare,” Davis said.
“But that is something that will have to be agreed between us, in the whole 28,” he added, referring to all EU member states.
Hundreds of thousands of EU citizens living and working in Britain, a majority from eastern states such as Slovakia and Poland, are demanding that their rights be protected.
It is estimated that at least 1.2 million British citizens currently live and work in other EU member states. They, too, are lobbying to preserve their rights post-Brexit.