THE Government has crashed to a further heavy defeat in the House of Lords over its flagship immigration legislation.
Peers backed by 312 votes to 211, majority 101, a Tory-led cross-party move that would see EU victims of modern slavery granted leave to remain in the UK.
It is the seventh setback the Government has suffered in the upper chamber to its Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, which will end EU freedom-of-movement rules in the UK.
Peers have demanded a series of changes to the legislation, including continued help for unaccompanied child refugees and imposing a 28-day limit on immigration detention.
It raises the prospect of a legislative tussle with the elected Commons known as parliamentary ping pong, where a Bill is passed between the two Houses.
The amendment aimed at ensuring continued post-Brexit protection for EU victims of modern slavery was proposed by Conservative peer Lord McColl of Dulwich.
Arguing the need for the change, he said: “It is clear that in future, victims of modern slavery who come from EU countries will be significantly worse off than they are currently.
“As a firm supporter of Brexit and an advocate for victims of modern slavery, I know that while free movement must end, the restoration of our sovereignty does not require us to create a situation in which the effective rights of some confirmed victims of modern slavery are diminished.
“Parliamentary sovereignty actually gives us the opportunity to improve provisions for all victims of modern slavery if we want to. It does not necessitate that we should acquiesce with the effective erosion of the rights of any confirmed victims.
“That we should inaugurate the Brexit era by doing so… is in my judgment unthinkable.”
He was supported by independent crossbencher Lord Alton of Liverpool, who said that without the amendment “European nationals who are victims of trafficking will find themselves significantly disadvantaged compared to the status quo”.
“Ending free movement must not be associated with an increase in exploitation,” he added.
Responding, Tory frontbencher Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “The Government is equally committed to tackling this heinous crime which has absolutely no place in our society.
“We are now identifying more victims of modern slavery and doing more to bring perpetrators to justice than ever before.
“We are committed to supporting victims and survivors and helping them to rebuild their lives.”
However, Lord Parkinson said the Government did not accept that European nationals who were victims of modern slavery “should automatically be granted leave to remain in the UK”.
He told peers: “Granting leave to remain is appropriate in some cases, but the individual circumstances of a case are what must be central to the decision.”