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Brexit bill delayed over EU nationals' rights

By Afp-Xinhua | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-03 07:36

LONDON - The unelected House of Lords voted on Wednesday to amend and thereby delayed a bill empowering Prime Minister Theresa May to begin Brexit negotiations, demanding guarantees for EU nationals living in the United Kingdom.

In a major defeat for the government, peers voted by 358 to 256 for an amendment requiring ministers to protect the rights of more than 3 million European citizens after London leaves the bloc.

The change means the bill must return to the lower House of Commons for deliberation, delaying final approval just weeks ahead of May's deadline for starting Brexit negotiations by the end of this month.

Before the vote, May said her timetable for triggering Article 50 of the European Union's Lisbon treaty, which starts a two-year negotiating period, would not change.

A Brexit Ministry spokesman said it was "disappointed" at the Lords vote, which came after lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the bill last month. Lawmakers in the lower house defeated all amendments to the bill, including one on the rights of EU nationals.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed Wednesday's vote as "great news", suggesting he may support the amendment when it returns to the Lower House.

A spokeswoman for May's office said the government would seek to reverse the change when it moves back to the Commons, where May's Conservatives have a majority.

If they succeed, the original bill would go back to the Lords in what is known as parliamentary Ping-Pong.

The delay may only end up being a few days, but the defeat signals the domestic opposition that May could face during the next two years of complex EU negotiations.

Intense worry

The June referendum vote was fueled by concerns about mass EU migration into Britain, and immigration promises to be a critical issue once negotiations begin.

May has said she will prioritize ending free movement of workers from the other 27 EU countries, even at the cost of trade ties with the bloc.

But the fate of those who are already in Britain remains uncertain, causing intense worry for people affected.

The prime minister has said she wants them to stay, but said she must also secure the rights of 1.2 million UK citizens living in the EU.

(China Daily 03/03/2017 page12)

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