The Theresa May government remains hopeful of keeping to the end-of-March deadline to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the European Union after suffering a defeat in the House of Lords, with an amendment to its Brexit bill being passed on Wednesday.
The amendment, passed by 358 to 256, seeks to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain after Brexit. EU citizens - including Goans with Portuguese passports - are reported to be in some panic after some were recently refused permanent residency by the Home Office, despite living in Britain for years.
May has refused to guarantee the indefinite stay of EU citizens after Brexit until the fate of British citizens living in 27 EU countries is decided in negotiations. The government said the bill was about the process of Brexit, not about issues such as immigration.
The Brexit bill, which authorises the May government to trigger Article 50, will now go back to the House of Commons for consideration, as part of what is known as “ping-pong” in British parliamentary discourse.
A bill may go back and forth between each House until both reach agreement on the exact wording of the bill – this is known as “ping pong”. In exceptional cases, when the two Houses do not reach an agreement, the bill falls.
The Department for Exiting the EU said: "We are disappointed the Lords have chosen to amend a bill that the Commons passed without amendment. 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.”
The amendment got support from some ruling Conservatives in the House of Lords, where the government does not have a majority. But government sources said the ruling benches will seek to overturn the amendment when it comes to the House of Commons next week.
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said there is growing consensus on the issue of EU citizens in Britain: “The prime minister is now increasingly isolated. Labour will continue to support this simple but effective amendment when it returns to the Commons, and urge MPs on all sides of the House to do so.”