Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May said her Brexit plans were on track in spite facing her first parliamentary defeat on her bill to trigger EU exit talks.
Parliament’s upper house is expected to back an amendment to protect the rights of EU citizens residing in Britain in a vote late Wednesday.
The opposition Labour amendment in the House of Lords, strongly backed by Liberal Democrats, said the government should guarantee that EU citizens living in Britain would keep and continue to acquire residency rights once formal Brexit negotiations begin.
“Today, the Lib Dems step up and defend EU nationals living, working and making their home in the UK. I urge every peer (lord) to join us,” Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said on Twitter ahead of the vote.
“We have a huge opportunity to save countless families from being ripped apart,’’ Liberal Democrat peer William Wallace wrote in The Independent newspaper.
It was unclear whether Wednesday’s amendment, if passed, could delay parliament’s final approval of the Brexit bill, which had been expected to be passed on March 7.
May has promised to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets the rules for a nation negotiating its exit from the EU by the end of March.
“It is still our intention to do that by the end of March,’’ May told parliament’s main house, the Commons.
Angela Smith, Labour’s leader in the Lords, late Tuesday accused the government of using EU citizens as “bargaining chips,’’ warning that its stance was “shameful and could have a dire impact on the UK’s economy and essential services.’’
“Confirming the rights of those EU citizens living in the UK can only be of benefit to our citizens worried about their future in EU countries, but the government’s approach seems to be to sit back and wait for others to blink first,’’ she said.
Smith was responding to a letter to the Lords from Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who had urged them to back down the amendment and promised them a chance to vote on the status of EU citizens in a later immigration bill.
An amendment would mean the bill returning for another vote in the Commons, where the Conservatives had a comfortable majority.
Adding to the pressure, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested she would push for a second independence referendum if May insists on launching Brexit talks based on leaving the EU single market and without further consultation with Scotland.
If May refused to compromise, a second referendum “wouldn’t simply be legitimate, it would arguably be a necessary way of giving the people of Scotland a say in our own future direction,’’ Sturgeon said in a speech on Tuesday