Article 50 author hits out at 'total betrayal' of EU nationals in UK
PUBLISHED: 15:07 07 March 2018 | UPDATED: 15:31 07 March 2018
The government has been accused of a "total betrayal" of EU nationals living in Britain who believed their future status had been secured post-Brexit.
Former ambassador Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who wrote Article 50 which triggered the formal withdrawal process, warned that the exodus of essential workers would only speed up.
The independent crossbencher made his scathing criticism of the Conservative administration after the government said the divorce deal reached before Christmas, which opened the way for Brexit talks to progress to the next stage, only represented a "consensus" and was not a legally binding agreement.
As well as citizens' rights, the so-called joint report covered the Irish border issue and the UK's £39bn exit bill.
The latest spat came as peers continued to debate more than 300 amendments during the marathon committee stage of the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords.
Tory frontbencher Lord Keen of Elie told peers the UK government had "achieved consensus" with the EU in a number of important areas.
He said: "We have a joint report, we have therefore consensus and we are moving onto the negotiation overall of what will ultimately be an international treaty.
"We have not yet signed a binding agreement in law."
Pressed by Labour former Cabinet minister and New European columnist Lord [Andrew] Adonis over whether the government might "resile" from any of the commitments made, Lord Keen said: "I don't imagine that the government would wish to do anything of the sort."
But on the issue of EU nationals, Lord Kerr said: "What we haven't heard is any indication that anybody is aware of the reality of the outside world that these people are choosing to go home.
"People we need are going because the government is not giving them an assurance."
He added: "These people believe that we agreed something. They believed there was an agreement.
"And what we are seeing now in this intellectually fascinating legal debate is a total betrayal of their belief that we had agreed something and the pace of people moving away from this country who we need will speed up if we don't get this right."
Speaking earlier, Lord Adonis questioned why Parliament had not already moved to give legal effect to the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, given the assurances made by the prime minister.
He said: "The reason why that hasn't happened is precisely because the government does want to use EU citizens as bargaining chips.
"Saying that they don't when all the evidence is that they do I'm afraid doesn't cut the mustard at all."
He Adonis added: "It's a terrible face this country is presenting to the world.
"As this whole Brexit project starts to disintegrate nothing is undermining its moral foundations more than our inability... to give firm legal undertakings in respect of people who are resident in this country and came here in good faith."
Opposition spokesman Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town said the legislation provided the opportunity to enshrine the rights of EU nationals into law.
She said: "I think we owe them a higher degree of comfort than they currently have.
"The future of these citizens is basically in our hands."
Tory peer Lord Cormack was deeply critical over the government's refusal to immediately guarantee the rights of EU citizens.
He said: "I just think it is indicative of the mess in which we have got ourselves.
"I bitterly resent it."
Labour's Baroness Prosser, former president of the TUC, warned that the UK's global reputation would go "down the Swannee" if citizens' rights were not safeguarded.
Liberal Democrat Baroness Ludford argued EU citizens in the UK had been left in a state of "anxiety and limbo".