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Theresa May can now trigger Article 50, the Tories vote against guaranteeing right to stay for EU citizens and our fight continues argues Shabbir Lakha

The Article 50 bill has now passed into legislation, giving the government the authority to trigger Article 50 and begin Brexit negotiations with the EU. But not before the Tories took a second opportunity to deny the rights of 3 million EU citizens.

Despite a number of polls showing that a clear majority of the British population – regardless of how they voted in the EU referendum – support the rights of EU citizens in the UK; and the Brexit committee and the House of Lords supporting the amendment, Theresa May still insisted on pulling all the stops to vote down the amendment.

Given that the EU referendum, which posed the simple question Leave or Remain, gave the government only the mandate to exit the EU and not to use European citizens as a bargaining chip or end freedom of movement, Theresa May’s position can only be described as utter contempt for the British people and the basic human rights of 3 million people.

In London, several hundred people gathered in Parliament Square during the debate to put pressure on MPs to do the right thing. The demonstration was addressed by John McDonnell and Diane Abbott who criticised the Tory position in the strongest terms and reaffirmed Labour’s commitment to secure the right to stay for 3 million EU citizens. Jeremy Corbyn was planning to attend the demonstration but was held in Parliament because the vote was pushed.

Yannis Gourtsoyannis, a junior doctor who has been at the front of the movement against this government’s attacks on the NHS and who spoke at the demonstration, said after the Tories won the vote:

Let’s be absolutely clear on one thing. By refusing to confirm the rights of EU citizens in this country our government is implicitly threatening that, if need be, it would expel people who have been here for decades. People who may have spent the majority of their lives here. Who may have raised children here, paid their taxes here, who have worked day in and day out, as cleaners, builders, doctors, teachers and bus drivers.

And of course, this government’s specific attack against EU migrants is part of a much wider, and deeper attack against the rights of ALL migrants.

The real fight starts now

Jeremy Corbyn received backlash for saying “the real fight starts now” after the Tories voted down Labour’s amendments the first time the Article 50 bill went through the Commons. The reality is that he is absolutely right. It should be kept in mind that the fact that there was a bill at all and a Parliamentary vote on the final deal has been secured is because of the strong opposition that he has put up.

Winning the amendments and putting them into law from now would have been a bonus. Jeremy has simultaneously respected the result of the referendum, put up a clear opposition on key issues of Parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit negotiations and on the rights of EU citizens, and eliminated any remaining misconceptions that Theresa May has any intention of negotiating a Brexit deal that will work for people.

The Lords defeating the government on the amendment the first time was completely down to the cross party support Jeremy managed to gather for his amendment. Similarly he has already begun serious diplomatic efforts with European politicians from all 27 EU member states to ensure that pressure is applied across the board to ensure the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU are non-negotiable.

The fact that many Tories who supported Remain in last year’s referendum and defended freedom of movement in their campaigns – including May herself – have now stepped in line with plans for a hard Brexit and voted down the amendment, will go a long way in damaging the credibility of the Conservatives as a party and individual MPs in their constituencies.

We all have a real fight on our hands. Not only in supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts for a People’s Brexit, but in winning the arguments on the key issues on the economy and austerity, on immigration and racism at their roots. That way we can ensure that whatever happens during the negotiations over the next two years and however successful we are at every hurdle along the way, at the end of it we will come out on top.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.