PM faces battle to get Brexit bill through Lords
Theresa May will face a parliamentary battle to get her Brexit Bill through the House of Lords as Labour launched its effort to rewrite the legislation.
The House of Commons overwhelmingly backed legislation allowing the Prime Minister to formally begin Brexit without altering it, but the British Government will face a stiffer test in the Lords where the Tories do not have a majority.
If peers attempt to hold up the legislation or seek to dramatically alter it, a full-blown constitutional crisis could develop, with one Government source warning that the public outcry could lead to the abolition of the unelected chamber.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has warned the House of Lords to do its "patriotic duty" and back the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
But Labour's frontbenchers vowed they would not be "cowed by threats" and tabled a series of eight amendments, including a demand for greater certainty over the promised vote on the Brexit deal and a fresh call for the rights of EU citizens in the UK to be protected.
The legislation allows Mrs May to trigger Article 50, the formal legal mechanism for starting the two-year countdown to Brexit, which she hopes to do by the end of March.
She was warned by Italy's prime minister that talks with European Union counterparts "will not be easy" but the process must not become "destructive".
After talks with the Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni said his country would take a "constructive and friendly" approach to the divorce but warned it will be "difficult" to reach an agreement.
The Italian premier said: "We are aware of the fact that negotiations will not be easy and we also know, and this will certainly be the Italian attitude, that we need a constructive and friendly approach.
"There is absolutely no point in having a destructive negotiation between the EU and the UK.”
"So, obviously we will do this in the hope of fostering the unity of the 27 countries because without the unity of the 27 countries, it will be difficult to come to some agreement.”
"We must ensure this unity will result in the best possible agreement with the UK."
Mrs May underlined plans to make guaranteeing the status of EU nationals living in the UK and those of Britons living in the rest of the bloc a top priority once talks finally begin.
She said: "I think there is goodwill on all sides in relation to this matter. We recognise people want reassurance for their future."
A Government source has stressed the Lords will face an "overwhelming public call to be abolished" if it attempts to frustrate the progress of the legislation.”
Mr Davis told unelected peers not to try to change the simple two-clause Bill as it was passed by MPs unamended, which he said "reflected the will of the people".
Asked if the Lords would face "dire recriminations" if it amended the Bill, he told Sky News: "I've seen these bloodcurdling things, they're silly.
"I mean, the simple thing is the Lords is a very important institution.
"I expect it to do its job and to do its patriotic duty and actually give us the right to go on and negotiate that new relationship (with the EU)."
Labour's leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon said her peers would not "seek to block or sabotage the start of this process".
But she added: "The Lords, as always, will challenge and scrutinise legislation put before us and if necessary we will pass amendments on issues where we wish the Commons to take another look.
"That is our role as the unelected House, and we will not be cowed by threats of abolition or flooding the place with hundreds of new Tory Peers.
"The stakes are too high and we will do our duty."
Labour's amendments would put into writing the Government's promise of a vote on the deal in Westminster before it is put to the European Parliament.
The Opposition argue ministers also have a "moral obligation" to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK, rather than waiting to see if reciprocal arrangements can be agreed for Britons on the continent.
The amendments would also allow for access to secret impact assessments of the various trade options being considered, acknowledging the sensitive material should be kept out of the public domain.
Other changes proposed by Labour include a requirement for quarterly updates on the Brexit negotiations, commitments on the Government's goals for the talks, additional assurances about the involvement of the devolved administrations, collaboration with civil nuclear regulator Euratom and safeguards for the Good Friday Agreement.
A Downing Street spokesman rejected suggestions of a threat to the House of Lords's future if peers oppose the Bill.
"We have the utmost respect for the House of Lords, which has an important constitutional role to perform," said the spokesman. "The House of Lords has every right to scrutinise and debate legislation.
"Clearly, we have sent up a simple Bill to allow us to trigger Article 50. That has been passed without amendment by the Commons."