May to seek to quash Lords' vote to amend Brexit Bill

House of Lords votes to protect the right of EU nationals to continue living in Britain

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May will seek to overturn the first parliamentary defeat for her Bill to trigger Brexit, after the House of Lords rebuffed a government plea to leave it intact.

Britain's unelected Upper House voted by 358 votes to 256 on Wednesday in favour of an amendment to the draft law that would protect the right of European Union (EU) nationals to remain living in Britain when the country leaves the bloc.

"The Prime Minister has made clear her intention that the Bill should be passed unamended," Mrs May's spokesman Greg Swift told reporters yesterday. "MPs have already voted it through unamended in the first stage so we expect that to be the case again."

Securing the legal status of Europeans working in Britain is a critical priority for businesses that could face potential labour shortages.

The government defeat is a blow to Mrs May's authority on Brexit and complicates her timetable for launching negotiations.

While the Premier has repeatedly said she wants to guarantee the rights of more than three million EU citizens in Britain, she has also said that she must, at the same time, receive reciprocal guarantees for Britons abroad.

Critics said she is using people's lives as negotiating capital.

Mr Swift said Mrs May will still trigger talks by her self-imposed deadline of March 3.

The Commons is set to debate the amended Bill on March 13 and 14, said a government official. That would allow Mrs May to gain royal assent and begin the Brexit process under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty as early as March 15.

The Lords may not have the appetite to extend the fight if the amendment is rejected in the Commons, where Mrs May's Conservative Party has a slender majority.

Labour's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said on Twitter that his party, the main opposition, will back the amendment. Even so, Tory rebels, wary of Mrs May's Brexit plans, may not choose to make it the issue on which they defy the Prime Minister, the BBC reported, citing unidentified lawmakers.

Ms Molly Meacher, who sits as an independent lawmaker in the House of Lords, told BBC Radio 4 that there are as many as 30 Tory lawmakers in the Commons who are prepared to back the amendment.

"On the basis of morality and principle", the vote can be won in the Commons, she said. "(Even so), the Tory whips in the Commons are going to work extremely hard with all sorts of bribes to get these people to vote with the government."

The Premier's next challenge will come on March 7, when the Lords completes scrutiny of the Bill.

Mr Dick Newby, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, said he expects three more amendments to be voted on next week, covering Northern Ireland, a second referendum and providing for a "substantive" vote in Parliament on Mrs May's eventual Brexit deal.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2017, with the headline 'May to seek to quash Lords' vote to amend Brexit Bill'. Print Edition | Subscribe