House of Lords Defends Right of EU Nationals to Stay in the UK Post-Brexit, as the Tyrant Theresa May Vows to Overturn Amendment


Campaigners for a new initiative, Stop the Silence, launch a new nationwide poster campaign urging the Lords to vote for amendments to the Article 50 bill, and for the public to resist the "hard Brexit" aggressively promoted by Theresa May (Photo: EPA).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.


The image above is of campaigners for a new initiative, Stop the Silence (also on Twitter), launching a nationwide poster campaign outside Parliament calling for the Lords to make amendments to the Article 50 bill and for the public to speak out over the government’s “hard Brexit” policy. Check out the video here, and see here for ‘I’m voting against Theresa May’s hard Brexit in the House of Lords this week – go ahead and call me an enemy of the people’, an article by Liberal Democrat peer William Wallace.

Congratulations to the House of Lords for doing what MPs in the House of Commons so dismally failed to do three weeks ago — guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK to stay in the country as Theresa May prepares to trigger Article 50, beginning two years of negotiations that will, apparently, end up with us no longer a member of the EU.

For May, the would-be tyrant who inherited Brexit as the unelected leader of the Tories after every other senior Tory resigned or was discredited after the EU referendum last June, the 3.3m EU citizens living and working in the UK are to be treated as “bargaining chips” in negotiations with the EU, allegedly to protect the rights of the 1.2m UK citizens living and working in other EU countries, but in reality because of the tendencies of May and her advisers towards xenophobia and unprovoked belligerence towards our fellow citizens in Europe.

A decent leader would, immediately after the referendum, have guaranteed EU nationals’ right to stay here, taking the moral high ground and exerting pressure on the EU to do the same for UK nationals in other EU countries, but decency no longer exists, I am ashamed to say, and is one of many reasons that the Britain I live in today is turning into a blinkered, inward-looking, self-pitying, isolationist little nation, hopelessly deluded about Britain’s significance in the world, aggressive towards everyone that disagrees with the alleged “will of the people” expressed last June in what was legally nothing more than an advisory referendum, and ruthlessly dedicated to cutting all ties with the EU, even though that will be the single most insane act of economic suicide in the lifetimes of anyone born after the end of the Second World War.

Last night’s amendment passed by 358 votes to 256, in what the Guardian described as “a heavy defeat” for the government. A breakdown showing how peers voted revealed that peers has voted as follows:

For the amendment

Labour: 165
Lib Dems: 93
Crossbenchers: 78
Conservatives: 7 (Lady Altmann, Lord Bowness, Lord Cormack, Viscount Hailsham, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, Earl Selborne and Lady Wheatcroft)
Bishops: 2
Others: 13

Against the amendment

Conservatives: 213
Crossbenchers: 30
Bishops: 3
Others: 10

The amendment, noticeably, did not call for the immediate protection of the rights of EU nationals, but only that, within three months of triggering Article 50, proposals be brought forward ensuring their protection. The exact wording of the amendment is as follows: “Within three months of exercising the power under section 1(1), Ministers of the Crown must bring forward proposals to ensure that citizens of another European Union or European Economic Area country and their family members, who are legally resident in the United Kingdom on the day on which this Act is passed, continue to be treated in the same way with regards to their EU derived-rights and, in the case of residency, their potential to acquire such rights in the future.”

As the Guardian proceeded to explain, peers who backed the amendment “urged Conservative MPs in the House of Commons to support the change when the bill returns,” although the government immediately vowed to overturn it, once more demonstrating that the moral high ground is anathema to the petty, vindictive, flag-waving, self-obsessed, xenophobic Prime Minister and her Brexiteer ministers.

However, Molly Meacher, a crossbench peer who backed the bill nevertheless said she was “hopeful” that Tory rebels — up to 30, in her estimate — would defy the whip “on the basis of morality and principle” when the bill returns to the Commons with the amendment.

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Meacher tackled the lie that “giving EU citizens guarantees would leave UK citizens living in the EU vulnerable.” As she said, “UK nationals in the EU have been getting together and putting pressure on us in the House of Lords to pass this amendment to keep this issue outside and ahead of the negotiations. They believe and I share the belief that their only hope of getting their situation sorted out ahead of the negotiation is precisely if the British government act morally to do a deal on EU citizens.”

As the Guardian also noted, campaigners will also “point to the fact that significant cabinet members including Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom have all suggested that EU citizens should have their rights protected.”

The government’s bill for triggering Article 50, passed by craven MPs three weeks ago, as I explained in my article, On Brexit, MPs Give Away Sovereignty, Vote to Allow Theresa May to Do Whatever She Wants, is a derisory two-paragraph affair that was only reluctantly allowed by Theresa May after a Supreme Court ruling ironically reminding her that, in the UK, sovereignty resides with Parliament as a whole and not just with the Prime Minister, but despite MPs’ failures three week ago, and the likelihood that rebels will fail to materialise, the passage of the amendment will delay its passage into law by at least one week, until 14 March, as a result of what is known as parliamentary ping pong between the Houses of Commons and Lords.

The Guardian noted that lobbying of Tory MPs “is already under way, with cross-party talks likely as Labour and the Lib Dems urge Conservative colleagues to push for a second government defeat on the issue.” Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said there was “a growing consensus” in support of EU nationals’ rights being defended before Article 50 is triggered, despite the failure of MPs to pass the amendment in the Commons. “The prime minister is now increasingly isolated,” he said, adding, “Labour will continue to support this simple but effective amendment when it returns to the Commons, and urge MPs on all sides of the house to do so.”

In the debate in the House of Lords, a number of peers “gave short shrift to the government’s suggestion that a one-sided guarantee could be damaging for the rights of British people living in other European countries.”

Labour’s Lady Hayter, opening the debate, pointed out that the government “had the power to act now over the issue.” As she said, “In 1985, my noble friend Lord Kinnock had to say to his own party: ‘You can’t play politics with people’s jobs.’ I now want to say to the government: you can’t do negotiations with people’s futures.”

Lady Hayter was “backed by a number of high-profile peers including the former Lib Dem leader Lord Campbell and the former lord chief justice Lord Woolf,” and Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, called the government’s argument that “an offer to EU citizens would weaken its hand in European negotiations” a  “questionable” stance, adding, importantly, that, “However you think about that argument it is using them as bargaining chips.”

Lord Hailsham, the most high-profile Tory backing the amendment, said denying European citizens the right to remain in Britain could lead to a legal challenge, but he also pointed out that it was “a matter of principle.” As the Guardian put it, he “described how a French waitress in parliament had asked him what would happen to her when Brexit took place.” He said, “I gave her my personal opinion, which was that there would be no problem for her, but I was not able to give her the guarantee that I think she was entitled to deserve.”

Other peers, including, shockingly, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who had fled Uganda under Idi Amin, refused to back the amendment, comparing it to “the start of a race,” but failing to acknowledge what message it would send to EU nationals to not address their rights upfront.

The loss for the government in the House of Lords came about “despite a last-minute effort by Amber Rudd to reassure peers about the government’s intentions on the issue.” Rudd had “insisted there was no question of treating European citizens with ‘anything other than the utmost respect’, and said their status would be top priority in EU negotiations,” but peers were not convinced. As the Guardian put it, “The decision of peers to force a vote at committee stage was unusual, but came when it became clear the government would not make concessions on this issue.”

Responding to the vote, Paddy Ashdown, the Lib Dem peer and former party leader, said there had been a “collective release of emotion” from peers, as the Guardian described it.

He said, “This House has sat cowering, with its hands behind its head, refusing to speak, shelled daily by the government and suddenly the House of Lords says ‘no!’. This is a matter of honour, of principle, and we will insist. At last this beast of parliament has found a voice.”

He added that “he hoped it would send a signal to the EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens abroad that they were being heard,” and that “he believed the defeat would galvanise opposition to the government,” stating, “I hope every individual will now examine their conscience and realise that a parliament that allows a government to ride roughshod over it is in dereliction of its duty.”

The Labour MP Peter Kyle also issued a statement on behalf of Open Britain, which is campaigning for a “soft” Brexit, particularly in relation to the UK staying in the single market. He said, “I’m delighted that the House of Lords have stood up to the government and voted to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain. I proudly voted for the amendment a few weeks ago and I will do the same again. I urge MPs of all parties to do the decent thing and support the amendment when it returns to the House of Commons. No matter what party you are in or whether you campaigned to leave or remain, there is both a practical and a moral imperative to protect the rights of three million people who now face crippling uncertainty about their future as British residents.”

The Guardian also spoke to Monique Hawkins, a Dutch woman “who highlighted the plight of EU citizens when she revealed last December she had been asked to ‘prepare to leave’ the country after 24 years.” She said she was “‘heartened’” to hear so many moving and inspiring speeches” in the Lords, but sounded a note of caution, explaining that “she feared the successful amendment still did not cover stay-at-home parents, carers, disabled people and students whose residence status was uncertain because they decided to continue their lives in Britain but did not take out health insurance when they arrived in the country.”

As the Lords continue to debate the Brexit bill, the government faces the prospect of a second defeat next week, when peers “vote on an amendment guaranteeing parliament a vote on the final Brexit deal,” an amendment that, shockingly, MPs voted against last week, thereby capitulating to Theresa May’s tyrannical ambitions.

Unfortunately, as the Guardian noted, the government “is determined to reverse the defeats when the bill returns to the Commons, probably on Monday 13 March, and it is expected that at that point the House of Lords will back down and let the elected chamber have its way.”

I think the Lords should resist, but more than that I think the majority of MPs who supported remaining in the EU should find their voices, and insist that the rights of EU nationals and the right of Parliament to vote on the final Brexit deal be guaranteed instead of, as it currently stands, bowing down in abject servitude to the anti-democratic and intolerant Theresa May, and granting her unfettered power to do whatever she wants, however ruinous it will be for Britain’s economy and for what remains of our tattered reputation as a tolerant and welcoming country.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, congratulating the majority in the House of Lords who, last night, voted for an amendment to the government’s wretched Brexit bill intended to guarantee the rights of the 3.3m EU nationals living and working in the UK to stay here, an act of fundamental decency that the fundamentally unpleasant would-be tyrant Theresa May refuses to guarantee. For me, this is a simple but extremely important matter of taking the moral high ground – guaranteeing EU nationals the right to remain and urging the EU to do the same for the 1.2m UK nationals in other EU countries, but the heartless May and her Nasty Party want EU nationals here to be treated as nothing more than “bargaining chips.” It makes me ashamed to be British, but so does the dawning of every day that the deluded and disgraceful Theresa May is still Prime Minister, and, with her Brexiteer ministers, continues to deny the reality that leaving the EU is an act of unprecedented economic suicide that will, in addition, hurl us into the most horrendous, backward-looking, Little Englander isolation.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. Check out this warning from Paul Drechsler, the president of CBI, about how leaving the EU without a new trade deal – falling back on WTO rules – would open up a devastating Pandora’s box for Britain’s businesses:

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s Martin Kettle in the Guardian on Labour’s self-inflicted woes:

    The party, though not its leader, is pro-European. Labour was opposed to the referendum. It campaigned for remain. Its voters, never forget, voted by two to one to remain. But leave won the referendum. Inevitably, that put pressure on Labour to accept the result, not fight it. That was especially true in Labour constituencies where the majority of voters (though not necessarily the majority of Labour voters) opted for leave.

    Gina Miller’s victory in the courts in January placed a weight on Labour MPs that they have struggled to bear. Labour voters and MPs are mostly remainers. Labour conference policy, endorsed at Liverpool after the Brexit vote, is to keep open the option of remaining in the EU if the final Brexit terms are unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, instead of standing up as much as possible for Britain’s post-Brexit place in Europe, Labour has increasingly kowtowed to the leavers’ mandate and to the noisy triumphalism of the anti-European press.


  4. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s the FT, ‘EU citizens face 85-page “nightmare” Brexit Britain form’:

    With a masters degree in economics and five years working in London’s financial services industry, Marek felt confident when he sat down on a Sunday evening in August to tackle the UK’s application for permanent residence.

    But like many others, he was soon frustrated — and ultimately defeated — by an 85-page document that has become the bane of many foreigners living in Brexit Britain.

    “I come from a country that very much has its level of bureaucracy, but this is tops,” said Marek, a Polish expatriate who declined to use his real name because of concerns about his immigration status. “You see a form like this, you see this list of documentation, and it’s nothing but hostile.”


  5. Andy Worthington says...

    When Sue Katz shared this, she wrote:

    Are you keeping up with what’s going on in the UK? Andy Worthington is one excellent source. Here’s his new piece about Brexit developments.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Sue!

  7. Tom says...

    Watching from the US, one of the most striking things about Brexit is the arrogance of their supporters. Boris Johnson kept saying oh, no worries. Once we vote to leave we get out. Other countries will impose tariffs on us? The Germans wouldn’t dare do something like that. Now, how many millions of people want another referendum? Even war criminal Tony Blair is calling for one. Most reputable EU experts say that it will take at least 20 years to properly negotiate new trade agreements with all necessary countries. Agreements where the UK’s reputation isn’t damaged and where you have a decent chance of getting a good deal.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. Yes, it’s a key time for people who claim to be educated and intelligent – the pro-Brexit ministers and MPs – demonstrating that they’re not; that they’re actually driven by a dangerously blinkered ideology. Everyone who wants to understand the complexity of leaving the EU should read Ian Dunt’s excellent book, Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? in which he actually spoke to experts!
    And as for Boris Johnson, well, there must be a special circle of hell for someone who led the Leave campaign but didn’t actually believe in it, didn’t intend to win, and only took the role to further his career.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    As the Observer reports in ‘Leading Brexiters urge May to guarantee EU citizens right to remain in UK,’ a report by the All-Party Select Committee on Exiting the EU, published today, states, “The result of the referendum and subsequent debate in the UK and across the EU have created a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty for EU citizens resident in the UK and for UK citizens in the EU. EU nationals in the UK did not have a vote in the referendum. They came to the UK legally and have contributed to the UK economically and culturally and enriched UK society. The vast majority have worked hard, paid their taxes, integrated, raised families and put down roots. It is difficult to see what more the UK could have asked of them. The result of the referendum, however, has made them very unsure of their future. Although the government has said it wants EU citizens to be able to remain, the committee notes that this has not offered sufficient reassurance that the rights and status that they have enjoyed will be guaranteed.”

    The report adds, “EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU are aware that their fate is subject to the negotiations. They do not want to be used as bargaining chips, and the uncertainty they are having to live with is not acceptable. Notwithstanding the assurance given by the home secretary, we recommend that the UK should now make a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK.”

    This is good news, although it’s depressing to see Michael Gove being highlighted in the article, as he did so much to encourage people to vote for us to leave the EU in the first place and i not deserving of any positive publicity. The Observer also notes that “other hardline Leave supporters on the committee who unanimously approved the report include former Tory ministers Dominic Raab and Peter Lilley,” and it will be difficult, I hope, for Theresa May to ignore them.


  10. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s Nick Cohen on where we’re at – ‘No patriot can take pride in these stupid and cruel acts’ – in which he states, with reference to the EU referendum vote, that “there is a genuine taboo against saying that people as individuals can be stupid and that there are times when their stupidity combines to produce gross, self-harming acts of national stupidity”:

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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