Brexit trigger looks set to be deferred

MPs rejected an amendment to guarantee the status of EU nationals in the UK

Brexit trigger looks set to be deferred

A European Union flag in front of Big Ben in London | Image: Daniel Leal-Olivas PA Wire/Press Association Images

British Prime Minister Theresa May looks set to wait until the end of the month before kicking off a two-year Brexit process from the European Union.

The Brexit bill was approved by the British parliament on Monday night, allowing Mrs May to trigger Article 50.

With no opposition from Labour, the House of Lords backed down in their attempts to amend the bill following an earlier vote in the Commons.

MPs rejected a Lords amendment to guarantee the status of EU nationals resident in the UK by a margin of 335 votes to 287.

They also overturned a second amendment, which would have required the Government to grant parliament a "meaningful" vote on the Brexit deal eventually secured by Mrs May, by 331 votes to 286.

There was speculation that Mrs May would move immediately to start Brexit in a statement to the Commons on Tuesday, after gaining the legal authority.

But her official spokesman told reporters she had always said she would trigger Article 50 by the end of March.

He added: "I've said 'end' many times but it would seem I didn't put it in capital letters strongly enough."

Wednesday and Thursday this week are viewed as politically sensitive as it would coincide with elections in the Netherlands, where the anti-EU PVV party of Geert Wilders is challenging for a share in power.

Triggering Article 50 next week could be seen to overshadow the special summit of the remaining 27 member states in Rome on March 25th to mark the 60th anniversary of the European Union.

Speaking after the vote the Brexit Secretary David Davis said: "Parliament has today backed the Government in its determination to get on with the job of leaving the EU and negotiating a positive new partnership with its remaining member states.

"We are now on the threshold of the most important negotiation for our country in a generation."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded saying it was "deeply disappointing" the government had refused to give ground but it was "only the start of the process".

"Labour, at every stage, will challenge the Government's plans for a bargain basement Brexit with Labour's alternative of a Brexit that puts jobs, living standards and rights first," he said.