Why the Lords’ unconstitutional Brexit intervention threatens our democracy

The vote by the House of Lords to prevent a ‘no deal’ on Brexit by giving the Commons a veto over negotiations threatens a constitutional crisis. Firstly, it is odious to see an hereditary Viscount dismissing the will of the people, supposedly in the name of a parliamentary sovereignty which for decades he has been regularly happy to ignore whenever Parliament rubber-stamped legislation from Brussels. Second, whatever the Supreme Court argues, it is now surely a constitutional convention that the results of referendums are accepted automatically (the first referendum on Scottish devolution failed of course because it did not secure the vote of 40% of the electorate as laid down in the Act that established it—not on account that the result was advisory). No one would dream, for example, of withholding independence from Scotland if a majority of Scots voted for it. Of course, EU practice is different. No country in the EU has ever been able to veto a treaty by referendum whatever is laid down constitutionally in the Treaty of Rome. And our peers today are motivated by an irrational desire to remain in the EU at any cost. Finally, the Salisbury convention is that the Lords does not challenge legislation for which there is a public mandate in the form of a manifesto commitment. Yet both the Conservatives and the DUP committed themselves to leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market in their manifestos at the last election (and so, too, arguably did the Labour Party).
This constitutional crisis may yet be averted should the Commons vote to overturn the Lords’ amendment. If not, what will happen?
To find an historical parallel in terms of foreign affairs, one has to go back to the new Whigs support for the French Revolution and Napoleon or to the Tories undermining Marlborough in the reign of Queen Anne. Yet even these people did not place a government in a position akin to that of May’s today. It is almost as if Churchill in May 1940 had been told by Parliament to keep on backing Halifax over peace proposals and not to stop negotiating with Hitler until peace had been agreed on—even on Hitler’s terms. It is that serious. After all nothing less than the independence of the United Kingdom is at stake. The EU of course is not run by Nazis but it most certainly wants us to surrender even the prospect of our independence.
The last time extremists in the House of Lords attempted to thwart an elected government was when the Tory Die Hards threw out Lloyd George’s budget. That crisis led to the king promising to create hundreds of new, pro-government peers and to a new general election. Both these things could quite conceivably happen again. It also led however to the Parliament Act of 1911 which severely reduced the powers of the House of Lords. This time the popular demand will be for the abolition of the Lords altogether. And they will deserve to disappear. There will be no regrets after their brazen repudiation of the popular will.
In the meantime I believe that the scene has already been set for revolutionary changes in British politics. The Tory and Labour parties are radically divided. The Labour leader has turned out to be an unprincipled opportunist leading a nasty collection of hardline Marxists and anti-Semites. The Tory establishment, like the Establishment as a whole, is strongly Europhile. Rees-Mogg and his ERG seem incapable of action. History, I fear, nay I now hope, will sweep them all away. With luck it will allow a truly independent, self-governing and self-confident Britain to prosper as a global player on a global stage. We are not defeated yet.

4 thoughts on “Why the Lords’ unconstitutional Brexit intervention threatens our democracy”

  1. Why can’t all the leave parties unite to form a more solid attack force against the civil service that’s convinced it is the ruling back bone of Britain. If the Conservative party fail to deliver a satisfactory Brexit for the country they will lose the backing of the electorate.

    1. It is not just the House of Lords unfortunately, as that could be modified going forwards by an “Elected Chamber”, however the real problem with the democracy of Brexit is that the majority of MPs voted “Remain” and the majority of the people voted “Leave” and the EU do not want a giant exit sign from their protectionist club!

      It is therefore critical that any FTA is negotiated outwith the EU, you simply do not negotiate in enemy territory unless you have won the war, unless of course you wish to surrender!

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