A nail in the coffin of Brexit-phobic House of Lords

Despite their disgraceful attempts to do so, the Lords won't stop Brexit. But in shamelessly attempting to thwart the democratic will, they have achieved something: the British people are now alive to the necessity to scrap this corrupt institution and replace it with something better

Empty it and start again
Stephen Mitchell
On 22 June 2018 11:40

This week has put the future of the House of Lords in doubt – even though their attempts to frustrate the EU (Withdrawal) Bill have not succeeded.

Despite all their grandstanding and outrage, attempts by the Upper House to undermine the will of the people and reverse Brexit were forcefully rejected by MPs, and talk of the Lords’ abolition made it to Westminster Hall.

Debates across the Parliamentary estate resulted unfavourably for the bloated, unelected House of Lords.

This began on Monday 18th June, when Robert McBride’s overwhelmingly popular public e-petition – calling for a Referendum on abolishing the House of Lords – was debated in Westminster Hall. With 169,000 signatures behind the petition, it was refreshing to see a passionate gaggle of Parliamentarians from the Conservatives, Labour and Scottish National Party debate in the name of public interest.

Curiously, no Liberal Democrat MP thought the debate worthy of their time, despite theirs being the party which forced the Coalition Government to introduce a reform bill in 2012.

Conservative MP Paul Scully – a passionate Brexiteer – introduced the petition, and eloquently outlined the pivotal faults of the institution. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill amplified these faults, laying bare the snobbery of Peers – the majority of whom are failed politicians enjoying their status – and luscious expense accounts - without needing to worry about accountability.

Parliamentarians from both sides of the aisle came together to criticise the overstepping of the Lords’ constitutional role, and the anachronism of an unelected, increasingly large, Upper Chamber.

As with many debates, especially regarding e-petitions, the immediate effect may be small. In this case, the Minister of the Constitution, Chloe Smith MP, pledged little more than ‘a reduction in size of the Upper House’. BIG DEAL.

Most change in Government is incremental. Hopefully, this debate was nothing less than a step in the right direction. Of all the various futures imagined in Westminster Hall, the status quo or – heaven forbid – a return to the pre-Blair era of only hereditary peerages, was thankfully not discussed.

When right wing Conservatives, the far left of the Labour party and the SNP all find common ground, serious reform is surely afoot.

Not long after the MPs spoke in Westminster Hall, Peers congregated on the red benches to attempt to defeat the Government. Lord Hailsham (former Tory MP, Douglas Hogg) re-introduced the ‘meaningful vote’ amendment to The EU (Withdrawal) Bill – the last of the attempted ‘wrecking’ amendments. In calling Brexit a ‘national calamity’, the worst fears of Brexiteers were confirmed, and the Lords’ true colours revealed.

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill ping-ponged back to the Commons on Wednesday, where it was finally laid to rest. Dominic Grieve MP, former Attorney General and arch-Europhile Conservative, tabled what was essentially the same amendment as Lord Hailsham. It called for a ‘meaningful vote’ whereby Parliament would take control over the negotiations if Theresa May failed to reach a deal - or if Parliament voted down that deal - come the New Year.

Constitutionally perverse, and motivated by ant-Brexit sentiment, this is a red line for Brexiteers.

In the face of public rage - and the potential to bring down the Government - Dominic Grieve finally capitulated. He relented on his vociferous threats and simply crumbled, voting against his own amendment. This left the mafia of anti-Brexit Conservatives – including Anna Soubry, Kenneth Clarke and Antoinette Sandbach – flummoxed, with only 6 Tories rebelling against the Government.

So, it was another loss for the Remoaners, and a final defeat for the Peers. A yank to the ground from their high horses.

As with the Westminster Hall debate, The EU (Withdrawal) Bill highlighted those in both parties who very clearly respect democracy and their constituents. Labour’s Graham Stringer, John Mann, Kate Hoey and Frank Field all rebuffed their Whip and sided with the Great British Public. Frank Field, earlier in the week, penned a piece for the Daily Telegraph calling for the abolition of the House of Lords, which just goes to show how dire the situation is for the likes of Lord Hailsham and co.

Public sentiment has undoubtedly shifted, followed by increasing pressure by the Commons as high-profile Conservative ‘Remoaner’ MPs in prominent ‘Leave’ constituencies are being castigated by their own voters.

Conservative Remainiac, Antoinette Sandbach MP had the temerity to report one of her own constituents to the police, about a perfectly reasonable letter this pensioner wrote to Sandbach to question her loyalty to her predominantly ‘Leave-voting’ constituency.

With the Lords’ posturing over Brexit, it’s clear the public are frustrated with the role of the Lords in the legislative process. One or both of the major parties will, no doubt by 2022, feature reform or abolition of the Lords in their manifestos.

The more the House of Lords attempts to usurp power from the people of the United Kingdom, the more enthusiastic the Great British Public will become for the bloated, outdated, hugely costly and increasingly irrelevant Upper House to be replaced by something – anything – much better.

A recent ComRes poll commissioned by We, The People illustrated the extent of the public’s ire. 76% of respondents think the House of Lords is ‘Out of touch with the British people’; 79% think the chamber is an ‘outdated throwback’; and 79% believe most Peers are ‘cronies, retired or failed politicians’.

This is hardly a surprise when findings from the Electoral Reform Group show the disproportionate number of Peers from London and the South East, and hardly any from the North of England.

The House of Lords has brought upon itself a PR disaster – the sight of well-spoken former Civil Servants, has-been politicians and hereditary peers, patronising the Great British Public has not gone unnoticed.

When 17.4 million proud Britons voted in 2016 to Get Britain Out of the European Union it was seen as a final opportunity for their voice to be heard inside the ‘Westminster Bubble’. The House of Lords have not scored a win in their attempts to block Brexit, but the fact they attempted to has started the countdown to their retirement.

Stephen Mitchell is a Research Executive at cross-party, grassroots campaign Get Britain Out

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