Living in Interesting Times
The following piece appeared in one of our local blogs, Your New Zealand. It was written by a guest correspondent ("Missey") in the UK.
Before reading we would "set the stage" as it were by reminding readers that the history of English (and Great Britain's) constitutional development from the time of the Bloodless Revolution of 1688 has had at least two general (albeit related) themes. The first was the development of the primacy of the Parliament over the Crown. The second, was the growing primacy of the Commons over the House of Lords.
It has been blithely assumed by all and sundry that this gradual development has ceased. The constitutional tectonic plates were no longer colliding or shearing off against each other, but had settled into a perpetual somnolent state.
Suddenly a taiaha has been thrown into the ground. The Commons have overwhelmingly passed the Brexit Bill. Now the Lords (or at least a goodly number of that chamber) are threatening to pass lots and lots of amendments, the upshot of which will be to stymie Brexit, and keep Britain within the EU. In reaction, open conversations about removing the House of Lords have broken out--something which has not happened for a long, long time.
Today the House of Lords began their first two days of debate on the Article 50 [Brexit] Bill before it goes to committee stage.
Over the weekend a number of Lords said that it would not get through unscathed, and they were open about wanting to do everything to either water down the legislation, or stop it completely, this has put the Lords on a collision course with both the people and the House of Commons.
There have been a number of MPs that have been open about pushing for serious reform – or abolition – of the Lords if they hold up this legislation, and some of the Lords have also acknowledged that if they try to stop this it could mean the end of the House of Lords.
Today a number of critics of the Lords, and a couple of newspapers, called for members of the House to declare their interests in the EU – many are earning either consulting fees, or pensions from the EU, and it is seen by some as a clear conflict of interest. If Brexit happens these Lords will lose their EU income, and some believe that is the real reason they want to stop it happening. Coincidentally one of the loudest about stopping the legislation allegedly earns one of the highest pensions from the EU.
Theresa May attended the opening debates in the Lords, she is allowed to as a member of the Privy Council, but it is reportedly unprecedented for a PM to go and listen to a debate on legislation in the House – at least in modern times. The last time a PM attended the House of Lords was David Cameron to listen to the tributes to Margaret Thatcher.
Baroness Evans, the leader of the House of Lords today urged the Lords to recognise the primacy of the House of Commons. She reminded the Lords that they passed the legislation for the referendum without restriction on the result, and that this bill is not about re-visiting the debate.
This will be interesting times, but it could also be a catalyst for fundamental change in the UK’s political landscape if some are to be believed – and I don’t mean with regards to leaving the EU.