30 Tory MPs predicted to rebel over Article 50 bill
Some 30 Tory MPs could back an amendment calling for ministers to guarantee the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK after Brexit, it was claimed today.
Crossbench peer Baroness Meacher insisted it was not a foregone conclusion that ministers would successfully overturn a defeat in the upper chamber when the Article 50 bill comes back to the Commons.
She told the Today programme: “We understand that there are 30 Tories who are saying that they will vote to support this amendment. Obviously the Tory whips in the Commons are going to work extremely hard with all sorts of bribes to get these people to vote with the Government.
“I believe it can be won in the Commons on the basis of morality and principal. Tories are principled people in general.”
Peers voted by 358 to 256 in favour of a Labour-led cross-party amendment to the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill giving Theresa May the authority to trigger Article 50.
The legislation passed its initial Commons hurdle without amendment, with only three Tory MPs: Ken Clarke, Andrew Tyrie and Tania Mathias, backing a Labour move to guarantee EU citizens’ rights post-Brexit.
The bill will return to the Commons on March 13 and 14 following last night’s vote in the Lords, with reports that Mrs May is looking to trigger Article 50 on 15 March.
A spokesman for Brexit department said ministers were “disappointed” by the defeat but made clear that their position has not changed, and that the Prime Minister’s timetable for triggering Article 50 would not be derailed.
Mrs May has insisted that no guarantees on EU citizens’ right to remain post-Brexit should be granted without equivalent assurances for Britons living in other EU member states.
Eurosceptics responded angrily to the vote in the upper chamber last night, with former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith accusing peers of “beating their chests and puffing out their own sense of self-importance".
Responding, Baroness Meacher said Mr Duncan Smith’s charge was “ridiculous”.
“Frankly this is a moral issue, the Government has created a problem for nearly four million people living and working in this country. I worked in the NHS for a quarter of a century or so, I know doctors, nurses, all sorts of people, [the] backbone of the NHS who happen to be from the EU,” she said.
“They are worried, they say they’ve always lived here, they felt this was their home and suddenly they feel embarrassed about their accent, they wonder if they really belong here, and we are at risk of losing a lot of those people.
"So there’s a moral issue for the individuals, and there’s also a fundamental issue for Britain itself."
Baroness Meacher also warned that Britons living in EU member states could be "left in a state of limbo" at the end of the Article 50 period.
“They believe, and I share their belief, that their only hope of getting their own situation sorted out ahead of the negotiations is precisely if the British government acts morally, and on the basis of principal, to deal with EU citizens here," she said.
"If we don’t then the UK citizens in the EU will have no hope, in my view, in our view, of having their situation resolved until the end of the negotiations in two years’ time.
"If there is no deal then you can imagine UK citizens, EU citizens here being left in a state of limbo at the end of the two-year period. And we know it is perfectly possible there will be no deal and we will just fall out of the EU at the end.”
'DO THE DECENT THING'
The Labour amendment, moved by shadow Brexit minister Baroness Hayter, requires ministers to introduce proposals within three months of Article 50 being triggered to ensure EU citizens in Britain have the same residence rights after Brexit.
Seven Tory peers rebelled and backed the amendment last night.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Twitter that the Government must “do the decent thing” and guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "This is a really welcome and important step forward. For months Labour has been urging the Prime Minister to end unnecessary uncertainty for EU citizens in the UK, and I am delighted our colleagues in the Lords have sent this clear message to the Prime Minister."