Any attempt by my fellow peers to block the Article 50 Bill would be a constitutional outrage

Any attempt by my fellow peers to block the Article 50 Bill would be a constitutional outrage

“What’s the plan?” has been the plaintive cry from despairing Remainers, with ever increasing volume, since the new Government was formed. Needless to say, and entirely unsurprisingly, when Theresa May outlined her proposed course of action, they were no happier.

Personally, as someone who spent fifteen years as an MEP in the European Parliament, and has taken part in many of these tortuous European legislative negotiations (trilogues to use the correct jargon), I wouldn’t actually have been quite so forthcoming on detail as the PM has been.

The European Parliament was often disadvantaged in these talks by virtue of the fact that the committee and plenary deliberations were conducted in public. Our negotiating opponents, the Member states in the European Council, knew very well what amendments enjoyed strong support and which were only marginally approved and would therefore be more difficult for the Parliament to sustain.

Conversely, their deliberations were conducted in secret and so we didn’t have similar advantages. Of course, many countries often privately leaked the discussions, when they had lost out on certain issues, to try and improve their position but, structurally, the Council held the whip hand. The more you know of your opponents’ positional strengths and weaknesses, the easier your task becomes.

The problem is that our European partners are generally better than we Brits at these games – they originate from proportional representation political systems that are dominated by endless, protracted horse-trading where every word and phrase is carefully considered and fought over in talks often lasting for months on end. Our majoritarian politics is very different. The only advantage we possessed was that the base texts were generally in English, hence Michel Barnier’s slightly tongue-in-cheek proposal to conduct the Brexit talks in French.

If there is such a thing as the ‘Remain establishment’, then its leading members can be found lounging on the red benches in the House of Lords, stuffed as it is with former European Commissioners and Foreign Office officials. Listening to the many debates and questions on Brexit over the last few months, I’ve been struck by how many have taken the referendum defeat personally, refusing to believe that their fellow citizens could have possibly taken such a contrary view to theirs, unless they had somehow been misled and bamboozled by evil Brexiteers and the Daily Mail.

Liberal Democrats in particular, of whom we have to endure many more than our fair share, act as though their favourite hamster has just died. They combine their grief with a slightly condescending attitude towards us Brexit supporters – we are somehow not clever enough to comprehend the complexities of international relations and how brilliant a concept the EU actually is. Ministers, led by our superb leader Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (herself a Leave supporter) have spent months patiently explaining to them the reasons for not revealing too many of our negotiating cards. But the Lib Dems have decided to put naked political opportunism ahead of their party descriptor and disregard the Democrat bit.

To be fair to the Labour leadership in the Lords, they have been much more reasonable and their leader, Baroness Smith of Basildon, has said that they will not seek to block the necessary legislation. I suspect their motivations have more to do with scores of Leave majority Labour seats in the North of England than they do with constitutional propriety but, nevertheless, it’s a welcome move.

The Lords has been working constructively in recent months, conducting a number of brilliantly detailed inquiries into the policy implications of Brexit, and asking the Government some very tough, but necessary, questions. I hope that my fellow peers will continue that approach when the Article 50 legislation comes before us for its Second Reading next week: questioning, probing and scrutinising the proposed laws but not blocking them (as the Lib Dems have promised) or seeking to subvert the Governments’ negotiating hand with numerous wrecking amendments, which would be a constitutional outrage.

At a time when public contempt for the political class has been amply demonstrated across western democracies, for we unelected peers to subvert a clear referendum result, following a record turnout, would destroy our political credibility for a generation.