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May set for EU withdrawal talks after Brexit Bill clears Lords

Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Prime Minister Theresa May has won Parliament's approval to begin talks on a divorce deal for the UK leaving the EU.
After weeks of bitter wrangling in both Houses, the Government comfortably fought off two Liberal Democrat bids to again amend the Brexit Bill in the Lords.
In a day of drama, the Commons voted to reject two changes made by peers to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which gives the Prime Minister the power to trigger the two-year Brexit talks.
MPs voted against a proposal to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK within three months, by 335 votes to 287, majority 48.
They then voted against an amendment designed to give Parliament a "meaningful" vote on the final deal, by 331 votes to 286, majority 45.
Later in the Lords, with Brexit Secretary David Davis watching from the bar of the House, a Liberal Democrat move to reinsert the amendment on the rights of EU nationals living in the UK was rejected by 274 votes to 135, Government majority 139.
Peers then voted 274 to 118, Government majority 156, against a move to insist on a "meaningful" vote on the final deal.
It took peers just two hours to decide not to defy the will of the elected Commons and allow the Bill to pass unamended before becoming law.
The votes came after Brexit minister Lord Bridges of Headley warned that now was not the time to "return to the fray" by inserting "terms and conditions" in the legislation.
In angry scenes, Labour's spokeswoman Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town attacked the Lib Dems for not being responsible and "falsely raising" people's hopes on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
She said the Lords' view on the issue had been rejected by the elected Commons and it was clear the Government wasn't for turning.
But Liberal Democrat Lord Oates said the Government had failed to make concessions over the position of EU nationals living in the UK and called on peers to insist on changes.
Tory former Cabinet minister Viscount Hailsham, who had previously rebelled against the Government over holding a "meaningful" final vote, conceded: "We have asked the Commons to think again, they have thought again, they have not taken our advice, and our role now I believe is not to insist."
Independent crossbencher Lord Pannick, who represented lead claimant Gina Miller in the successful Article 50 legal challenge and moved the original amendment on holding a "meaningful" final vote, said he regretted the Commons had not taken the advice of the Lords.
But he said it was time for the Lords to "give way on this matter" and dismissed the Lib Dem move to force another vote as a "completely pointless gesture".
Lib Dem Lord Taverne said: "It is a very dangerous step towards the doctrine that the people's will must always prevail.
"This is the doctrine which has always been favoured by Hitler, by Mussolini, by Stalin, by (Turkish president) Erdogan at this present time.
"It is denial of the essence of democracy which we have supported to great effect in this country, and now we are abandoning it."
Labour's Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean said the European Parliament had a legal right to vote on the terms of Brexit, something which the UK does not have.
Labour spokeswoman Lady Hayter agreed, but said the view of the Commons "would not change".
She added: "We will not make a pointless gesture."
Lord Bridges said he was committed to parliamentary scrutiny and a vote on the final deal, with Parliament now only having reached "legislative base camp".
He said that the amendment in its current was also unclear, adding: "Such vagueness on something so critical is unacceptable."
Later analysis of the division list for the first Lords vote on EU citizens' rights to remain in the UK showed that 25 Labour peers sided with the Lib Dems, including former Cabinet minister Lord Mandelson.

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