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Fighting for their rights

Here's what EU citizens in the UK think about Britain's House of Lords delaying the Brexit vote

Here’s what EU citizens in the UK think about Britain’s House of Lords delaying the Brexit vote

The House of Lords, Britain’s unelected upper chamber, voted to alter draft legislation on the terms of Brexit Wednesday in order to protect the rights of European Union citizens already living in Britain.

Despite this setback, Prime Minister Theresa May is doubling down on her government’s efforts to push its Brexit bill through parliament unchanged. A Downing Street spokesman told VICE News: “The Prime Minister has repeatedly made clear her intention that the bill should remain unamended.”

Previously, one anonymous MP had warned that the Lords would bring “an existential crisis upon themselves” if they went through with their threat to delay the Brexit process. The prime minister was said to support a harsh punishment, but now appears to have walked back on the idea.

Five percent of the UK’s 63.7 million population are from the EU – 2.9 million people in total – but the current Brexit bill does not include any rights and protections for EU citizens. May’s government has said those rights would be a priority after the process of leaving the EU begins next month, but has so far offered no formal protections.

The uncertainty means nervous times for EU citizens already in the UK. 23-year-old French student Sarah Ben Romdane has been living in London for a decade. “I definitely think that we can’t just rely on statements or declarations given by leaders,” she told VICE News. “We need to have our rights protected by law.”

Matteo Collalti, a 29-year-old Italian hairdresser in east London’s fashionable Shoreditch was more philosophical. “I feel a little bit rejected, yes.” he said. “But at the same time, I think that it might be the right thing for England.”

Britain’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd wrote to each member of the House of Lords ahead of the vote, saying a one-sided guarantee to EU citizens living in the UK wouldn’t help protect the rights of the 1.2 million Britons who live in Europe.

In mid-March the U.K. government is expected to trigger the process for leaving the European Union, known as Article 50. From that moment the UK has two years to extricate itself from the EU, in what is shaping up to be a bitter divorce.

Part of the House of Lords’ remit is to scrutinise bills passed by the House of Commons. This kind of debate between the British government and members of Parliament’s upper chamber is so common that it has a name: ping pong.

Bills can often bounce between the two houses many times before agreement is reached. And if that’s not possible, the government can force the bill through parliament without the consent of the Lords.

Cover: Associated Press

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