THE European Parliament’s chief negotiator in the forthcoming Brexit talks has underlined he wants to prioritise a mutual agreement on foreign citizens’ rights.

Guy Verhofstadt, who last month told The National the EU “could not afford to lose Scotland”, revealed his stance after peers gave Theresa May her first major parliamentary defeat over the Article 50 Bill when they backed a plan to guarantee the rights of EU workers in Britain. Seven Tory peers backed the amendment.

Responding to claims that by backing the amendment May would weaken the UK’s negotiating position in getting a positive outcome for UK nationals in the EU, Verhofstadt, tweeted: “The European Parliament will prioritise deal on UK citizens in EU & EU citizens in UK. People mustn’t be bargaining chips #RighttoStay.”

Verhofstadt had earlier come to prominence making repeatedly clear his sympathies with regard to an independent Scotland remaining in the EU.

In an interview last September, he said: “If Scotland decides to leave the UK, to be an independent state, and they decide to be part of the EU, I think there is no big obstacle to do that.”

He was also supportive of Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU in comments made immediately after the referendum.

“It’s wrong that Scotland might be taken out of EU, when it voted to stay. Happy to discuss with Nicola Sturgeon,” he tweeted on June 24 after the result.

Yesterday a cabinet minister confirmed the UK Government will “resist” a change to the Brexit Bill forcing the UK to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in Britain.

David Lidington, leader of the House of Commons, said ministers will fight all attempts to make the Government’s negotiating position “more difficult”.

The Bill is expected to complete its passage through the Lords by March 7 and then return to the Commons, where the Government is expected to try to overturn amendments added to it. A report in the Daily Telegraph yesterday said May wanted to trigger Article 50 by March 15 – two days before the SNP conference in Aberdeen where pressure will be on the First Minister to move forward with plans for a second independence referendum.

Lidington’s comments came after Valerie Vaz, shadow leader of the Commons, raised the issue of the Lords defeat and asked when the Bill will return to the chamber.

SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart, a fierce critic of unelected peers, jokingly asked MPs to give “three cheers for our heroes in ermine”.

“The people’s aristocrats have spoken and their voice must be listened to,” Wishart said.

“Every time I raise the issue of the House of Lords with [Mr Lidington] he tells me there’s absolutely no plans whatsoever to have that House reformed – accepting therefore their absolute legitimacy to raise issues such as this.

“So will he now listen to the House of Lords on this issue and will he say today that he has absolutely no plans whatsoever to use the Parliament Act if our unelected friends continue to show backbone on this particular issue?”

Lidington mocked former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, and Wishart, as he replied: “Your new-found passionate affection for the House of Lords makes me suggest it’s not just Mr Farage who has secret yearnings for the honours list.”

Tory Julian Lewis warned MPs against seeking to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK before UK expats living in member states have the same assurances.