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UK's May wins first stage of Brexit battle in House of Lords
[LONDON] UK Prime Minister Theresa May won the first stage of her clash with Parliament's un-elected upper chamber over her plan to trigger Brexit, but now faces a fight to pass her draft law unchanged.
After about 20 hours of debate over two days, lawmakers in the House of Lords agreed without a vote late Tuesday to let the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill move on to its next stage in the scrutiny process.
The draft legislation authorizing the premier to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty - starting two years of exit talks - will now move to its "committee stage" on Feb 27, when some in Mrs May's own ruling Conservative Party are likely to attempt to rewrite it.
"On an issue like this I just can't go against my conscience on what I believe to be right," Ros Altmann, a Conservative former minister, said in an interview after telling lawmakers she wants to amend the bill.
"The government and the House of Commons do need to reconsider this blank check mandate to light the fuse on what will be a two-year time bomb.''
Mrs May wants to launch the UK on the path out of the EU by invoking Article 50 by the end of March and has ordered her lawmakers to back her. She tried to avoid Parliament having a say over the process but was forced to seek lawmakers' consent when she lost a case at the Supreme Court in January.
The bill will move on to further debates next Monday and Wednesday, when legislators will consider amendments. These are likely to include moves to guarantee the rights of EU citizens to stay in the UK after Brexit and to ensure Parliament has a binding vote on the final departure deal before it's too late for it to be changed.
For Ms Altmann, the rush to trigger the start of the process of leaving the EU before a proper plan for Brexit has been devised is inexplicable. She wants Mrs May to give Conservatives in the Lords a "free vote" allowing them to follow their consciences instead of orders to vote down any amendments to the brief, 137-word bill.
While the Commons passed the draft law earlier this month without amending it, Brexit Secretary David Davis said he expects to lose votes on amendments in the upper house, where the government has no in-built majority.
It would then be for elected members of Parliament in the Commons to overturn the Lords' amendments later in March. Mr Davis and Mrs May both insist that even if they lose votes in the House of Lords over the coming weeks, they will still be able to trigger Article 50 by March 31.