Brexit

UK prime minister on Brexit: Don't hold up 'what the British people want'

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Britain's House of Lords launched a bid Monday to gain a greater say for Parliament over the terms of Britain's European Union exit, as Prime Minister Theresa May warned lawmakers they must not hold up "what the British people want" by trying to delay the process.

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The Lords, Parliament's unelected upper chamber, began two days of debate on a bill authorizing the government to trigger the EU divorce process.

The Lords can't overrule the elected House of Commons, which has already passed the bill.  But opposition members of the Lords are seeking amendments to guarantee Parliament a bigger say in the negotiations. Any amendments they pass would go back to the Commons for approval.

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That parliamentary "ping pong" could delay the bill's passage, endangering the government's self-imposed March 31 deadline for triggering two years of Brexit negotiations.

Angela Smith, the opposition Labour Party's leader in the Lords, promised that "we will not block, wreck or sabotage the legislation before us."

But, she added, "neither should we provide the government with a blank check."

Speaking earlier on a visit to the central England city of Stoke-on-Trent, May noted that the House of Commons approved the bill earlier this month without amendments.

"I hope that the House of Lords will pay attention to that," she said.

Natalie Evans, the Conservative leader of the Lords, said Parliament must respect voters' decision in a June referendum to leave the 28-nation bloc. She warned colleagues not to try to "restrict the government's hand before it enters into complex negotiations or attempt to re-run the referendum."

But Smith said the Lords would fulfill its role as the chamber of sober second thought and hold "a serious and a responsible debate." Almost 200 peers are due to speak during the debate on Monday and Tuesday.

"If we ask the House of Commons to look again at an issue, it is not a constitutional outrage, but a constitutional responsibility," Smith said.

One amendment will seek to guarantee the rights of 3 million EU citizens living in the U.K. after Britain leaves the bloc. So far Britain and the EU have failed to ensure that the EU nationals -- and 1 million Britons living in other parts of the bloc -- can stay, despite repeated assertions by both sides that people shouldn't be used as leverage.

Scores of EU citizens and their supporters rallied outside Parliament Monday to lobby lawmakers, carrying EU flags and stickers declaring: "I am not a bargaining chip."