UK PM May faces House of Lords defeat over post-Brexit rights of EU nationals

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LONDON (March 1): Prime Minister Theresa May faces her first defeat over her plan to trigger Britain's exit from the European Union, with parliament's upper house set to vote on Wednesday in favour of forcing her to guarantee the future rights of EU nationals.

The House of Lords is holding its second day of detailed debate on legislation which would give May the power to begin divorce talks, something she has said she plans to do by the end of this month.

Opposition parties in the Lords, where May's Conservatives do not have a majority, say they have enough support to pass an amendment to the legislation to include a guarantee on the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens currently living in Britain.

Any changes made in the Lords would need to be approved by the lower house, the House of Commons, which last month passed the legislation without attaching any conditions, something that may prolong a process May has she wants completed quickly.

"It is disgraceful that the Commons has so far allowed the government to get away with their plan to unfairly use EU nationals as bargaining chips in upcoming Brexit negotiations," said Dick Newby, Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords.

"This is a vital amendment that will put pressure on MPs (members of parliament) to see sense and give reassurances to the millions of EU nationals living in the UK."

Local media reported interior minister Amber Rudd had written to members of the Lords to say that EU nationals' rights would be a priority when Brexit negotiations begin but to warn that guaranteeing their right to stay without a reciprocal agreement would leave UK nationals living in the EU in limbo.

Angela Smith, the opposition Labour Party's leader in the Lords, said she believed other European countries would follow suit and guarantee UK citizens' rights in return.

"It is quite clear if we say we are doing this other European countries will welcome that ... I can’t see them rejecting that at all and it starts off the negotiations in a much better frame of mind and much better tone," she told Sky News.

Smith also said she thought pressure was growing on Conservative lawmakers, from Brexit supporters and their own party members, to back the amendment when it returns to them.

"I'm not convinced the Commons are going to reject it ... everything is open at the moment, don't write anything off. The government could accept this," she said.