MPs have rejected an amendment by the Lords to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals before the Brexit negotiations begin.
It came as MPs were asked to overturn two amendments made by peers in the upper chamber to the Government’s EU Notification of Withdrawal Bill, which provides Theresa May with the power to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
The Lords amendment, which aimed to force the Government to publish proposals for guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals before the mechanism is invoked, was defeated by 335-287 votes – a majority of 48.
Just two Conservatives – Alex Chalk and Tania Mathias – defied the Government’s whip and voted in favour of the Lords amendment. Six Labour MPs - Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Rob Marris, Graham Stringer and Gisela Stuart – voted with the Government.
Speaking in the Commons before the vote Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, said protecting the rights of EU nationals was a “matter of principle”, adding: “Are we prepared to use one set of people - those that are here - as a bargaining chip, to get the rights for people in the EU? That is exactly what it is.
“Once the whole argument about reciprocal rights is about bargaining, it is saying we will not do what we should do by this group of people until we get something in return for it. That is bargaining.”
But the Brexit Secretary David Davis predicted the UK would reach a “swift” agreement with the EU countries over the one million UK national living in member states and the 3.2 million EU citizens living in Britain.
Nick Clegg, the former Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister, speaking before the amendment was defeated, accused the Government on “shameful inaction” over the failure to guarantee the rights of EU citizens.
He said: "There is no earthly way that this Government can separate the three million EU citizens which are already here from the millions who may, after a certain cut-off date, want to come and live and study and work here in the future without creating a mountainous volume of red tape."
He added the Government risked creating "a tsunami wave of red tape" trying to distinguish between the two groups, as he reminded Brexit Secretary David Davis of their work together in opposing ID cards 12 years ago.
"I predict he and his Government will have to introduce something not identical, but strikingly similar, to the paper trail behind ID cards," said Mr Clegg.