Next week, the House of Lords will start the crucial phase of its review of the #brexitbill, where it determines how or whether to amend the law. This will be a fervent time, with the typical hyperbolae coming from the Leave camp, and stress aplenty. Many have played down the chances of the Lords doing something heroic, but I am more optimistic. And even if they don’t succeed, the battle is not lost.
First, why should we put more confidence in the Lords to do the right thing? In short, amending this bill is exactly what they exist for. They are not considering to block the passage of the bill, simply to ensure it carries the rights and obligations of democratic process. Their unelected status makes them the right body to conduct this work, which the directly elected Commons felt unable to do (notwithstanding that many Leave voters likely trusted that their MPs would provide a reality backstop).
The main argument that the Lords won’t be up to the task is that their chamber risks being reformed if they obstruct a swift and hard Brexit. But writing-in a better end-of-negotiation approval process is far from obstructing Brexit. And more important, the Lords are not likely so easily cowed. Much as the judges were made of stern enough stuff not to bow to a few newspaper headlines, so too, the Lords – we must assume – grasp their institutional powers, responsibilities and obligations.
So, I trust that the Lords will do enough to prise open the bill and insert a little reality. Many in the Cabinet would actually welcome such an intervention. And that brings us to the second point. Even if the Lords do bend the knee to their directly elected peers, even if the bill sails through into law free of amendment, all is not lost. For we are on the side of reason, fairness and history. We are neither lying nor exaggerating when we say that Brexit is a ridiculous idea, guaranteed to unleash economic turmoil. No self-interested politician – the PM included – will let a bad deal go through without at least granting MPs the chance to dismiss it. They simply pretend otherwise in a hopeless effort to secure negotiating ground.
In short, I believe the Lords are made of stern enough stuff. But if I’m wrong, then we still fall back on the MPs being selfish enough to trust that Brexit will be reversible before the final deal is signed. Keep lobbying, marching and making the voice of reason heard!