Theresa May defeated in the House of Lords over EU nationals: Now what?

Ian Silvera
Brexit vote 3 months on

The battle over the residency rights of EU nationals in the UK will now head back to the House of Commons after peers voted 358 to 256 to defeat the government in the House of Lords on Wednesday night (2 March).

The timetable for the vote on the amendment to the Article 50 bill in the lower chamber will be decided by the House of Commons leader David Lidington.

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Lidington held his weekly business session in the Commons on Thursday, but the senior Conservative failed to provide a date, with next week's Commons' business dominated by Chancellor Philip Hammond's so-called 'spring statement'.

The commons had already rejected granting unilateral residency rights to the estimated three million EU nationals in the UK, with just three Conservative MPs defying May over the issue.

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The prime minster has consistently argued that she did not want to make the guarantee until UK nationals on the continent were afforded reciprocal rights. But the Lords' unwanted intervention may make more MPs think again.

However, May commands a majority of 16 in the Commons and has the support of the pro-Brexit and eight-MP-strong Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

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The PM will want to avoid legislative 'ping-pong' between the chambers after promising to invoke Article 50 and trigger Brexit talks by the end of March. If May missed her self-imposed deadline, she would likely face criticism from her pro-Brexit backbench MPs and Ukip.

"We are disappointed the Lords have chosen to amend a Bill that the Commons passed without amendment," a spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the EU 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."

How a bill proceeds through parliament

Gina Miller statement

Having fought so hard to put Parliament at the centre of the EU Withdrawal Bill that will enable Government to trigger Article 50, I am absolutely delighted that the House of Lords have exercised their duty in an honourable manner, in voting by a 102 majority to give EU citizens certainty.

As the Lords stated, ministers should be setting out proposals about how they would protect EU citizens and their families within three months of Article 50 being triggered.

The government should not be playing politics with people's lives and should be demonstrating to the world that the British values of fair play and moral decency are ones that they will govern by. If EU member states were to use UK citizens in their countries as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations, the UK government will be able to stand proud and shame such actions.

But it is also important to uphold Parliamentary sovereignty after the negotiations, therefore I strongly support the Lords amendment in the name of Lord Pannick (as a crossbencher), and that of Baroness Hayter (Labour), Lord Oates (Lib Dem) and Lord Hannay (crossbencher) requiring that the terms of any agreement on our exit from the EU or the decision to leave with no deal must be put to both Houses of Parliament for approval. Such decisions cannot be left to the Government alone.

Adding these two amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill will not interfere with the prime minister's self-imposed end of March timetable, and will strengthen her position by creating legal certainty and negating the possibility of future legal challenges.

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