Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal has received a setback in the Lords over the right of EU citizens to be given official documentation if they lawfully reside in the UK after Brexit.

Peers backed a cross-party amendment to the European Union (withdrawal agreement) bill allowing them physical proof of their status – the first defeat for the government since the general election.

However, because of Johnson’s big majority, the result is expected to be overturned by the Commons.

The Lords passed the amendment, moved by Liberal Democrat peer Jonny Oates, by 270 votes to 229. It would give EU citizens in the UK the automatic right to stay, rather than having to apply to the Home Office, and would ensure they can get physical proof of their rights.

Afterwards the Home Office minister Brandon Lewis issued a statement rejecting outright the calls for a physical card to prove settled status, adding that the government’s policy would not change.

He tweeted: “I disagree with the results of today’s @UKHouseofLords vote. The EU settlement scheme grants #EUcitizens with a secure, digital status which can’t be lost, stolen or tampered with. There will be no change to our digital approach.”

A survey of EU citizens published on Monday showed that 90% want a physical card to demonstrate their right to be in the country and to avert discrimination by employers and landlords post-Brexit.

Oates said that without physical documentation EU citizens eligible to remain in the UK would be “severely disadvantaged” in dealings with landlords, airlines, employers and other officials.

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He denied it was an attempt to challenge Brexit or “frustrate” the legislation, which has already passed through the Commons with large majorities ahead of Brexit day on 31 January.

Oates said EU citizens covered by the settled status scheme should have the right to a physical form of proof of status, instead of the digital-only proof proposed by the government.

He said the right to remain should also be based on eligibility and not forfeited by failing to meet an arbitrary deadline under a cut-off date in June 2021, which could lead to EU citizens being “criminalised” afterwards.

Speaking for Labour, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride said the party was “far from convinced” about the government’s proposals and would vote against them unless concessions were granted.

Home Office minister Lady Williams of Trafford said the amendment could lead to “ID card creep”. She defended the digital provision of proof, insisting the service was robust and reliable, and said physical documents could be lost, stolen or tampered with.

“The government is adamant that we must avoid the situation where years down the line EU citizens who have built their lives here find themselves struggling to prove their rights and entitlements in the UK,” Williams said.



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