Brexit: Government vows to overturn Lords defeat on EU nationals

Three former heads of the civil service – Lords Kerslake, O'Donnell and Turnbull – among those calling for assurances that EU citizens can remain in Britain after Brexit

By Seb Whale

02 Mar 2017

Ministers have vowed to overturn a defeat in the House of Lords after peers overwhelmingly backed calls to guarantee the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK after Brexit.

Peers voted by 358 to 256 in favour of a Labour-led cross-party amendment to the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill giving the prime minister the authority to trigger Article 50.

The amendment proposed by Labour peer Baroness Hayter, requires ministers to introduce proposals within three months of Article 50 being triggered to ensure EU citizens in Britain have the same residence rights after Brexit.

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Lib Dem Baroness Ludford, who also put her name to the amendment, told peers yesterday: “The government is not holding EU citizens here as hostage and a bargaining chip for British citizens in the rest of the EU, but for other goals and it is disingenuous to inflame the fears of British people settled elsewhere in Europe that their case will be undermined by a unilateral move by the British government."

Seven Tory peers rebelled and backed the amendment last night, but while a government source said ministers were determined to pass the “simple bill”, and reverse the Lords’ amendment when the legislation heads back to the Commons. 

“The intention is to seek to overturn this in the House of Commons,” the source added.

A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the EU said: "We are disappointed the Lords have chosen to amend a bill that the Commons passed without amendment. 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."

Prime minister Theresa May has insisted that no guarantees on EU citizens’ right to remain post-Brexit should be granted without equivalent assurances for Britons living abroad in other EU member states. Among those backing the amendment on EU nationals on Wednesday night were three former heads of the civil service – Lords Kerslake, O'Donnell and Turnbull – as well as the former permanent secretary of the Treasury, Lord Macpherson.

May has pledged to invoke Article 50 before the end of March, with the government reportedly planning to invoke the Brexit process on March 15.

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