Pathway clear for Theresa May to trigger Brexit talks


British Prime Minister Theresa May has won Parliament’s approval to begin talks on a divorce deal for the UK leaving the EU.

After weeks of bitter wrangling in both Houses, the British Government comfortably fought off two Liberal Democrat bids to again amend the Brexit Bill in the Lords.

In a day of drama, the Commons voted to reject two changes made by peers to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which gives the Prime Minister the power to trigger the two-year Brexit talks.

MPs voted against a proposal to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK within three months, by 335 votes to 287, majority 48.

They then voted against an amendment designed to give Parliament a “meaningful” vote on the final deal, by 331 votes to 286, majority 45.

Later in the Lords, with Brexit Secretary David Davis watching from the bar of the House, a Liberal Democrat move to reinsert the amendment on the rights of EU nationals living in the UK was rejected by 274 votes to 135, Government majority 139.

Peers then voted 274 to 118, Government majority 156, against a move to insist on a “meaningful” vote on the final deal.

It took peers just two hours to decide not to defy the will of the elected Commons and allow the Bill to pass unamended before becoming law.

The votes came after Brexit minister Lord Bridges of Headley warned that now was not the time to “return to the fray” by inserting “terms and conditions” in the legislation.

In angry scenes, Labour’s spokeswoman Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town attacked the Lib Dems for not being responsible and “falsely raising” people’s hopes on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.

She said the Lords’ view on the issue had been rejected by the elected Commons and it was clear the Government wasn’t for turning.

But Liberal Democrat Lord Oates said the Government had failed to make concessions over the position of EU nationals living in the UK and called on peers to insist on changes.

Tory former Cabinet minister Viscount Hailsham, who had previously rebelled against the Government over holding a “meaningful” final vote, conceded: “We have asked the Commons to think again, they have thought again, they have not taken our advice, and our role now I believe is not to insist.”

Independent crossbencher Lord Pannick, who represented lead claimant Gina Miller in the successful Article 50 legal challenge and moved the original amendment on holding a “meaningful” final vote, said he regretted the Commons had not taken the advice of the Lords.

But he said it was time for the Lords to “give way on this matter” and dismissed the Lib Dem move to force another vote as a “completely pointless gesture”.

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