Unless something really unforeseen happens, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will pass the House of Commons in the coming weeks. This is where the fun might just begin. For it then goes to the House of Lords. Several peers have been vocal about their dislike of the Bill (not least Andrew Adonis) and the government, quite rightly, has fears for the Bill not passing the Upper House at all. Even it passing but coming back riddled with amendments is seen as undesirable by Number 10.
There is much to remark upon here, but I’ll try and keep it brief. First of all, it delights me to see once again the House of Lords, often the punching bag of the progressive Left, become the supposed saviours for the very same people once again. They all hate the House of Lords, decrying its unelected cronyism – until it is the only thing stopping a Tory government doing something they don’t like, at which point the Lords are transformed into a glorious tradition. I could talk (and laugh) about this all day, but I’ll leave it there.
What’s more interesting is the genuine constitutional dilemma at stake here. Brexit was always destined to test the British constitution to breaking point and here’s the latest issue it faces. The government always has the Parliament Act to fall back on if the Lords gets really problematic. However, as ever, there is a major problem with this plan: the next Queen’s speech is not due until summer 2019. As you may have noticed, that is after the Article 50 period runs out. So if the government is keen to get this Bill passed before Brexit happens – and they are – the Parliament Act isn’t available unless they want to have a Queen’s speech in 2018.
The other thing they could do is stuff the Lords with loads of people who will be put in there simply to vote the government’s way. Various governments over the last century have threatened to do this but have never resorted to it. There’s a reason for this: you are shredding a key component of the constitution, with no way to know what the long term fall out might end up being. If May resorts to this, she will be making an open mockery of the House of Lords and how peers are chosen. It would be the last step in unmooring the party from its Tory past to become the radical, libertarian Brexit party it is in the process of becoming already. Again, this could have a plethora of unintended consequences.
What will the government do then? Probably see how it goes in the Lords and simply hope for the best. Why ditch an MO this late in the day.
paul barker says
We put forward proposals to Democratise the Upper House & The Commons rejected them. The Lords are there because The Elected Commons wants them. That gives The Lords Democratic Legitimacy, for now.
This would be an interesting political question were it not for previous performance informing us that May will, without question, sit on the fence as long as possible. I.e. your last para.
Perhaps we would get the 1910 situation. If I remember my A-level history correctly, the then Liberal government threatened to create enough peers to carry the radical Lloyd George budget. The King was horrified. However agreed provided two general elections for the Commons had taken place. So we then had two General Elections in 1910 after which the Lords capitulated and the Parliament Act limiting their powers came into force.
So if Her majesty refuses to agree to a packing of the Lords without the endorsement at two General Elections, would that be constitutional? Probably not. But certainly a real huge constitutional crisis either way.
Paul W says
I would expect most and quite possibly all of the amendments passed by the House of Lords to be reversed in the House of Commons after a brief ‘ping-pong’ session. The House of Lords has demostrated in past tussles that it understands its limits. It lacks the necessary democratic credentials to challenge the House of Commons outright. The Lords’ function is as a deliberative, revising chamber. But Theresa should get her shopping list of new peers ready just in case their Lordships do get carried away by their own self-importance or forget their proper constitutional role. Somehow I don’t think they will.