UK Government suffers defeat in Lords over plan to start negotiations to leave EU
The British Government has suffered a damaging defeat in the Lords over its plan to start negotiations on leaving the EU at the end of this month.
Ignoring stern warnings not to amend the Brexit Bill, peers backed a Labour-led move to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK by a majority of 102.
Voting was 358 to 256 after a passionate and sometime ill-tempered three-hour committee stage debate on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
The defeat means the Bill, which was passed unamended by the Commons, will now have to return there for further consideration by MPs.
It could put at risk Theresa May's timetable for triggering Article 50 to begin Brexit talks by the end of March.
Shadow Brexit minister Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town warned against EU nationals being used as "bargaining chips" in negotiations to quit the EU.
Lady Hayter said the concerns of EU nationals here and British expats living in Europe shouldn't be "traded against each other".
Urging ministers to remove the uncertainty, she said: "These people need to know now - not in two years' time or even 12 months' time. They simply can't put their lives on hold."
Home Secretary Amber Rudd wrote to every peer yesterday urging them not to back the Opposition amendment to the legislation and was present for part of the debate - sitting on the steps in front of the throne like the Prime Minister did at the Bill's second reading.
But it failed to persuade peers that the Bill should pass unamended and become law as quickly as possible.
Labour's amendment to the Bill, tabled with Liberal Democrat and crossbench support, calls for ministers within three months of triggering Article 50 to bring forward proposals ensuring the rights of EU citizens living here continue post-Brexit.
The debate exposed divisions on the Tory benches. Former minister Viscount Hailsham urged the Government to move unilaterally and peers to take the "high moral ground" by backing the amendment.
But Tory former Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit sparked jeers when he said the debate seemed to focus on "nothing but the rights of foreigners".
Tory former chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby said that with a home in France he would have liked to see the Government give an "unconditional assurance" to EU citizens living here.
But he said he could not agree with the amendment because it had "no place in this Bill whatever".
Lord Lawson said there was no chance of Parliament approving the expulsion of EU citizens legally resident here - "so there is no danger whatever to EU citizens resident in the UK".
For the Liberal Democrats Baroness Ludford said: "The Government ought to accept that the weight of opinion is in favour of that unilateral guarantee which will then trigger similar rights for Britons abroad."
Brexit minister Lord Bridges of Headley, opposing the amendment, said that between now and the day of leaving the EU nothing would change for EU nationals living here.
The issue would be given early priority in the negotiations and the Government was confident of a "quick and timely" agreement with the EU securing the rights of British citizens in Europe as well as EU citizens living here.
The best way of providing certainty was to pass the Bill into law as quickly as possible so negotiations could begin, Lord Bridges said.
Later analysis of the division list showed that seven Conservative peers voted for the amendment. They were former minister Baroness Altmann, Lord Bowness, Lord Cormack, Viscount Hailsham, former minister Lord Livingston of Parkhead, Earl Selborne and Baroness Wheatcroft.
The winning amendment was also backed by 165 Labour peers, 93 Liberal Democrats and 78 crossbenchers.
Later the Government faced cross-party demands for a "meaningful" vote in Parliament on the outcome of the negotiations.
Independent crossbencher Lord Pannick, who represented the lead claimant, Gina Miller, in the Article 50 case, said the Prime Minister had promised to put the draft agreement to Parliament for approval but the Government was refusing to include the commitment in the Bill.
"A political promise made by the Prime Minister in good faith is no substitute for an obligation in an Act of Parliament," he said.
"On a matter of this importance it is vital to ensure there is a clear and binding obligation on the Government to return to Parliament at a defined time."
Lord Pannick said the move simply guaranteed parliamentary sovereignty and would not delay the Bill's progress.
But former Tory leader Lord Howard of Lympne said the change was "wrong in principle, constitutionally improper and unnecessary".
He warned it could lead to "never ending" negotiations and the "intrusion" of Parliament into the negotiating process.
Lord Bridges said: "We are leaving the European Union with a very clear intent to do all we can to forge a new partnership with the European Union.
"We do not approach these negotiations expecting failure but anticipating success."
He insisted Parliament would play a "valuable role" throughout the process in terms of scrutiny and on key decisions.
He added: "Parliament will be able to hold the Government to account in the usual way as the negotiations proceed and, crucially, Parliament will vote on whether to accept the deal the Government has agreed. This vote is the most meaningful vote imaginable.
"A vote on how we leave the EU, not a vote on whether we should leave the EU, for that decision was made in June."