The House of Lords has no right to stop the EU Withdrawal Bill

The House of Lords has no right to stop the EU Withdrawal Bill

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will shortly proceed to the House of Lords where the Remain-dominated Chamber is expected to challenge virtually every line of the legislation. The House of Lords fulfills an important constitutional and legislative responsibility to check, amend and seek to improve Bills arriving from the Commons. Typically, the Upper Chamber does this competently and has served this nation well.

The House of Lords is dominated by Peers who either supported Remaining in the European Union or who have announced their intention to do all they can to stop Brexit happening. Respected figures from both the Labour and Conservative parties such as Lord Adonis and Lord Heseltine have already begun the work of trying to thwart the public’s decision to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union.

The Salisbury Convention determines that the House of Lords should not oppose the Second or Third Reading of any government’s legislation promised in its election manifesto. The House of Commons voted by an overwhelming majority for a referendum and the government promised to implement the decision of the people. The House of Commons, by an overwhelming majority, supported invoking Article 50 and the Government has a majority in the Commons, admittedly in alliance with the DUP to deliver Brexit. The House of Lords therefore has no right to stop the EU Withdrawal Bill.

At the referendum the British people voted by a majority to take back control from a group of unelected and unaccountable individuals in Brussels. The people rejected the lack of democracy within European institutions and raged against the costs associated with maintaining those institutions. Their Lordships should take note of these circumstances and be cautious in their approach to the EU Withdrawal Bill; for if they try to change or overturn the will of the people, their Lordships might find the people want to take back control from the House of Lords.

There are a number of Peers who are in receipt of EU monies through pension arrangements owing to their previous employment by the institutions of Brussels. These individuals are bound to support the European Union. The British people ought to be aware of the role of these individuals, and a close examination of their contributions in debates as well as how they vote should be undertaken in the interests of democracy and transparency.

Typically, governments have always sought to defer House of Lords reform. David Cameron famously stated that Lords reform would be “a third term issue”, but that for many reasons never happened. Most people in this country, while they respect the Lords, do find it an archaic institution, seemingly out of touch with the lives of most people in this country. However, if the Lords spark a constitutional crisis by opposing the will of the Commons and the electorate, we could find House of Lords reform back on the agenda pretty quickly.

Precedent does of course exist. During the 1911 Budget crisis, the threat made by the government to force the King to create new Peers to pass the Budget contributed to the ultimate victory for the People’s Budget. The Government could easily and quickly create Peers to get its legislation through and would have the support of many millions of voters, including Labour voters, to ensure that Brexit means Brexit. Alternatively, the British people could take back control and introduce full democracy to the Upper House.

Ultimately, the House of Commons has the right to force legislation through Parliament using the Parliament Act, but the political and constitutional damage that would exist as a result would damage the integrity of Parliament forever. Trust in politics is at an all-time low; moves to overturn Brexit would damage that further and could lead to the emergence of other political forces that we have not seen in this country before.

Some have suggested that the House of Lords will recommend a second referendum on the final deal. There is virtually no support in the country for a second referendum and most opinion polls show the vast majority of the people want the Government to get on with delivering Brexit. The House of Commons – as the elected chamber – should make any decision on a referendum. The only national party supporting a second referendum at last year’s election was the Liberal Democrats – and they secured 7% of the vote.

At a time when the nation is engaged in the most challenging set of negotiations since the end of the Second World War, unity is required. Our old and famous Parliament has adapted and changed over time and has earned the respect and admiration of the world. Right now we do not need internal political and constitutional strife. At this time, we need our Parliament to work with and scrutinise the Government as it delivers Brexit – the will of the people.