The Conservative government was defeated in the House of Lords during a vote on Wednesday over the security of three million EU citizens living in the UK. The vote was the first parliamentary defeat for the government’s Brexit bill, which already passed through the House of Commons.
The peers voted 358 to 256 votes – a majority of 102 – in support of the Labour party amendment which guarantees the rights of EU nationals living in the UK. Peers are, also, calling on ministers to protect the rights of Europeans in the UK within three months of article 50 being triggered.
However, the Government will try to overturn the defeat when MPs are given the chance to vote on the bill, and it is expected that peers will back down at a second asking if MPs reverse the decision when it returns to the Commons on March 13.
The main result of the vote is that it delays when Theresa May is able to trigger Article 50, and subsequently Britain’s official exit from the EU. The Government described the defeat as ‘disappointing’ but has vowed to reverse the decision. The Lords who voted to alter the Bill were accused of ‘playing with fire’ because they are ‘doing a disservice to the national interest.’
A spokesman for the Brexit Department said: ‘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.’
May’s government has stipulated that it will only guarantee the rights of EU nationals if the other 27 member states make a reciprocal guarantee for British expats living abroad.
Months after the Brexit vote on June 23rd, EU citizens took action on their growing concern about their right to remain in Britain and inundated the Home Office with applications.
The number of application from EU citizens to secure their residency status in Britain grew from 37,618 in June 2015 to almost 100,000 in early 2016, including applications for permanent residence cards and documents for non-EU family members of EU citizens.
With the surge in applications, came a surge in demand for study materials. A publisher of textbooks that prepares candidates for citizenship tests said sales quadrupled since the June decision.
I have had permanent residency since 2009 but still found myself one such individual who envisioned her future in Britain jeopardised. The application process for citizenship is lengthy but I rushed to scramble together all the relevant documents and the hefty fee just to calm my nerves. I sent in my application before June but panicked because I had not received a decision in time for the Brexit vote. It finally came in and hallelujah! I became British. The moment was one of jubilation but also trepidation. I was happy to officially be recognised as a citizen of a country I had spent most of my life in, but saddened by the uncertainty that dampened the rights of European citizens on home turf as well as British expats abroad.
The decision’s a ticking time bomb: it can go off at any minute.