The House of Lords has crossed the Rubicon.
In voting on Monday to send back the government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill with an amendment that weakens its hand in negotiating the terms of Brexit, it has set itself against the British people and their expressed will.
For an unelected assembly that is meant to be limited to being a revising chamber, it has overstepped its boundaries and is now testing the patience of people who would once have supported it.
The UK had a referendum. The advantages were loaded in favour of the government and the establishment, including their Lordships; they chose the date, the franchise, and the question.
They had the civil service, and the institutions such as the Bank of England and Treasury behind them – and they had the facility to circulate a pamphlet costing £9m advocating their argument, and only their argument.
Yet they still lost.
The British people spoke, and in our largest democratic vote in history, the government and the establishment were told that we should leave the EU.
Despite there being various ideas and opinions about what form leaving might take, there was only one designated campaign for both Remain and Leave – and, as the copious amount of written and broadcast evidence shows, both said that Brexit meant leaving the EU’s Single Market and customs union.
We then had a General Election, in which both the Labour and Conservative parties stood on a platform of delivering Brexit – including leaving the EU institutions.
Had Labour not taken such a stance, it would have undoubtedly suffered a serious loss of support. For it to now equivocate and suggest that it is willing to go back on its word is little more than a betrayal of what it said it stood for.
And so we come to Monday’s House of Lords vote. The whipping on the voting over the different amendments confirms that Labour peers conspired with the arch-Remainers in the Conservative party to pass an amendment that could reverse Brexit.
In case anyone was in any doubt, this behaviour tells us that their priority is to try to force an election by defeating the government’s Bill, rather than considering what is best for Britain.
If the amendment is not removed in the House of Commons, the EU can offer Theresa May the worst deal possible, knowing that the UK cannot walk away, because parliament can force the government to accept it – against the public’s wishes.
In conspiring to force through this amendment, the Lords betrayed the people and the country.
May’s government has had what little backbone it had removed, along with its spleen. All that’s left is the guts to continue – and that might not be enough.
The Lords is now in the same category as Ireland’s Taoiseach, having become a pawn of the EU, rather than working for the majority of British people that voted for Brexit – and, indeed, the majority of those that voted Remain who have accepted the result and just want it delivered so we can all move on.
The only conclusion is that this institution is no longer fit for purpose as a revising chamber – it is going far beyond its remit.
Everyone knows that the Lords is an anachronism. It is only accepted by a modest majority of people for two reasons: one, because it appears to do a decent job of scrutinising legislation (which is a prized commodity when there is so much of it), and two, because few can agree what to replace it with.
Now, members of the Conservatives, as well as the other parties, are more likely to find agreement about rebuilding it from scratch – with strict limits on what its powers will allow.
Few are suggesting that the UK should have a unicameral parliament – as a former member of the single-chamber Scottish parliament, I can attest that it does not work well and leads to poor legislation. But it is now time to have a new revising chamber that looks dispassionately at legislation, and is also at least once-removed from party considerations.
The Prime Minister needs to regroup and take stock, but quickly. She must make it known that restoring her Bill to its original state is a confidence matter, and that she is prepared to appoint as many peers as it takes to see that it does not suffer further defeats.
Then she should go further, and announce that she will now bring forward proposals to reform the Lords to become a majority elected chamber.
She will have the people behind her, and democracy will be restored.