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Defiant Theresa May 'WILL trigger Article 50 on March 15' despite overwhelming Lords defeat over Brexit

Mirror logo Mirror 2/03/2017 Natalie Evans
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A defiant Theresa May is determined to push ahead and trigger Article 50 within two weeks despite suffering her first Parliamentary defeat over Brexit .

She will try and overturn a crushing decision by the House of Lords, which last night defied her by voting to let EU nationals stay in the UK .

Labour peers joined with Lib Dems and crossbenchers to crush the Government 358 to 256.

They agreed to amend the Brexit Bill – which gives Mrs May the power to trigger Article 50 – so that it guarantees residency rights before the end of June this year.

Labour’s Brexit spokeswoman in the Lords, Baroness Hayter, accused the government of using EU citizens in the UK as “negotiating capital” to win rights for British expats abroad.

"These people need to know now - not in two years' time or even 12 months' time," she said. "They simply can't put their lives on hold."

Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: “For months Labour has been urging the Prime Minister to end the uncertainty.”

Tory peer Viscount Hailsham said denying EU citizens their rights "offends natural justice", adding: "The moral high ground is very often the best ground on which to fight a campaign".

He added: "Let us all remember how shocked we were when Idi Amin expelled the Asians from Uganda, so shocked that we offered them refuge in this country."

But Tory minister Lord Bridges said it was wrong to guarantee rights until is deal is done for British expats.

And ex-Thatcher minister Lord Tebbit prompted uproar by moaning: "Why is everybody here today so excited about an amendment which looks after the foreigners and not the British?"

Mrs May is now determined to overturn the amendment – sending the bill back in its original form after it returns to the Commons.

A No10 spokesman confirmed: "The Prime Minister has made clear her intention that the Bill should be passed unamended."

He added: "It’s clear we’re disappointed the Lords have chosen to amend a Bill that’s passed through the Commons without amendment. It’s a Bill with a very simple purpose - that’s to enact the referendum result and allow the government to get on with negotiations."

Despite the setback, ministers are confident they remain on course to meet Mrs May's deadline for invoking Article 50, marking the start of the formal process of EU withdrawal.

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."

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The Bill is now expected to return to the Commons on March 13 and 14.

Last time MPs considered an amendment to protect EU citizens, it was defeated by a solid majority of 42 - with just three Tories backing it.

And those three rebel MPs, Ken Clarke, Tania Mathias and Andrew Tyrie, were all outspoken already.

To guarantee EU citizens' rights this time they would need at least 20 to 30 more Tory MPs to join them in rebellion.

Despite the gloomy odds one peer boldly claimed there were 30 Tory MPs ready to back the new EU citizens amendment.

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Crossbencher Baroness Meacher told the BBC: "We understand there are 30 Tories who are saying 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 principle. Tories are principled people."

If MPs again reject the amendment it will then "ping pong" back to the Lords, where senior opposition peers have indicated they will not seek to defeat the Government again.

This will potentially allow Mrs May to invoke Article 50 on March 15.

A Labour source said Baroness Meacher's claim of 30 rebels was "far too high".

But another, more dangerous rebellion for Theresa May could be in the pipeline.

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MPs and peers are angry about not getting a "meaningful" chance to veto the final Brexit deal.

Last month the Prime Minister held off a mass revolt by saying MPs would vote before Britain's final Brexit deal "concludes" in 2019.

Then, however, her team admitted Britain will leave with no deal anyway - not renegotiate - if the terms get rejected.

This angered MPs who branded the government's so-called compromise "hollow" and "holding a gun to Parliament's head".

Seven Tory MPs rebelled and arch-Remainer Nicky Morgan abstained after having a heated exchange with whips.

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