The House of Lords foresight leaves the Home Secretary with questions as Tory Ministers already seek to overturn the defeat by the Lords on the Government’s Brexit Bill
Peers defied Theresa May, voting by 358 to 256 in favour of an opposition amendment guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit.
The Government described the first defeat to be inflicted on the Bill during its passage through Parliament as “disappointing” but made clear they were determined to reverse it in the lower chamber.
A spokesman for the Brexit Department said: “The Bill has a straightforward purpose – to enact the referendum result and allow the Government to get on with the negotiations.
“Our position on EU nationals has repeatedly been made clear. We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals living in other member states, as early as we can.”
Opposition parties, who backed the amendment, urged ministers to take the opportunity to rethink their position on EU nationals, amid concern among many Conservative MPs and peers.
The Government has always argued that while it wants to secure the future rights of EU citizens, it needs to be able to secure reciprocal rights for British citizens living in the EU at the same time.
In the current situation, their should be no need to panda around pretending that its a negotiating strategy when families are being tormented over a non ethical stance of birth certificate rights.
For Labour, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer hailed the vote as a “welcome and important step forward”.
There is a growing consensus that this must be resolved before Article 50 is triggered, and the Prime Minister is now increasingly isolated.
“Labour will continue to support this simple but effective amendment when it returns to the Commons, and urge MPs on all sides of the House to do so.”
Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats who also backed the amendment, said: “The Prime Minister must now listen and accept this amendment.
“I can guarantee that Liberal Democrats will keep trooping through the lobbies time after time, if needed, to defend EU citizens’ rights.
“People must not be used as pawns in Theresa May’s dangerous game. Her position leaves lives, families and futures hanging in the balance.”
There was however anger among some MPs at the attempt by Lords to frustrate the will of the House of Commons which passed the Bill – with some authorising the Government to trigger Article 50 starting the formal Brexit process – unamended.
This has caused questions to be asked about what the Government is hiding. Some MPs have even resorted to using the public to cause unrest in House by threatening The Lords with unwarranted statements.
Labour MP Gisela Stuart, who co-chaired the official Vote Leave campaign, said : “The British people voted in their millions to leave the EU, and their elected MPs passed the Article 50 Bill without amendment.” also adding;
“The House of Lords should do the same and not seek to frustrate the Brexit process.”
Conservative Theresa Villiers, the former Northern Ireland secretary who campaigned for Brexit, said there was wide sympathy for the position of EU nationals but the Bill was “not the right vehicle” to resolve it.
“The blockage here is the European leaders and their refusal to embark on any kind of negotiations prior to the invocation of Article 50,” she told Channel 4 News.
The Bill is now expected to return to the Commons later this month where a similar amendment was defeated by the Government.
If MPs again reject the amendment it will then “ping pong” back to the Lords where senior peers have indicated they will not seek to defeat the Government again.
The impassioned and at times angry three-hour debate in the Lords exposed divisions within Conservative ranks over Mrs May’s Brexit strategy.
Former cabinet minister Douglas Hogg, now Viscount Hailsham, urged peers to take the “high moral ground” and offer reassurance to the millions of EU citizens who had made their home in the UK.
“The moral high ground is very often the best ground on which to fight a campaign,” he said.
However former Tory leader Lord Howard of Lympne warned the Government was unlikely to concede and said the position of EU nationals could best be resolved by getting on with Brexit.
Getting on with Brexit is one thing; Getting it right is another. The Government has yet to give any measure of plans for Brexit and with an insecure negotiating team, the strategy for just getting on with it does not add up. The only positive so far has come through a valid argument by the Lords, invariably teaching the Tory cabinet a sense of humanity.
This was not without some indication of ignorance by the cabinets ‘old guard’.
Cabinet veteran Lord Tebbit sparked jeers when he said the debate seemed to focus on “nothing but the rights of foreigners”.
“People of nationalities of other countries within the Union are foreigners,” he said. “Why is everybody here today so excited about an amendment that looks after the foreigners and not the British?”
Speaking outside the chamber, Bella Sankey, director of policy at Liberty, said: “Credit to the House of Lords tonight, as peers of all political stripes and none stood on principle to protect the rights of EU nationals and their families.
“The Leave Campaign promised that EU citizens’ rights would be guaranteed and polling consistently shows that the UK public overwhelmingly supports this.
“The Home Secretary should heed peers’ lesson in humanity, accept tonight’s amendment to the Brexit Bill and bring forward plans to give individuals and their families the reassurance and peace of mind they rightly deserve.”