Saturday 17 March 2018

Theresa May to trigger Article 50 within two weeks despite suffering Brexit bill defeat

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Gordon Raynor and Colm Kelpie

A defiant British Prime Minister Theresa May is determined to push ahead and trigger Article 50 within two weeks as planned despite the House of Lords inflicting her first parliamentary defeat over Brexit last night.

Peers voted to amend the bill to force the UK government to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain. Seven Tory peers backed the amendment.

However, Ms May is confident it will be rejected by the House of Commons later this month and Downing Street insisted the timetable for opening negotiations to leave the EU remained unchanged.

Lords who voted to alter the bill were accused by critics of "playing with fire", pointless "posturing" and "a disservice to the national interest".

The scale of the government's defeat in the Lords, where the proposal to amend the bill was passed by 358 votes to 256, prompted speculation Ms May could face a fresh Tory rebellion when the bill returns to the Commons. Conservative whips are confident, however, that no more than a handful of Tory MPs will support the amendment.

The prime minister has already told MPs that she wants to protect the rights of the three million EU citizens living in the UK, but will only issue that guarantee once the EU has granted reciprocal rights to the 900,000 Britons living in member states.

Labour's amendment to the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, tabled with Liberal Democrat and crossbench support, calls for ministers to bring forward proposals ensuring the rights of EU citizens living in the UK will continue post-Brexit, within three months of triggering Article 50.

Ms May intends to notify the EU of Britain's intention to leave on March 15, triggering two years of negotiations that would end with Brexit in 2019.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is outlining five scenarios for the future direction of the EU without the UK, from one centred on the single market only to a more federal approach.

The scenarios outlined in the policy paper published yesterday will form the backdrop for talks when EU leaders meet in Rome at the end of the month for a summit marking the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said it was time for a "united Europe of 27 to shape a vision for its future".

The first scenario envisages the EU simply carrying on as it is. The second focuses solely on the economic benefits of the single market, in the event that there is a lack of agreement on closer co-operation on areas from migration, to security, to defence.

The third scenario builds on the first, and talks of "coalitions of the willing" in which states that want to, can do more together in specific areas.

The fourth scenario focuses on doing much less, but more efficiently, and allowing member states to have more freedom at national level. But it still envisages new institutions, including a European Telecoms Authority and a European Counter Terrorism Agency.

The final scenario is the most ambitious. That would see EU states pooling more power and resources. In this case, decisions would be agreed faster at European level and be more rapidly enforced. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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