Source: Idependent

Posted: 20/2/2017



In an imperfect and largely unreformed upper house, the higher role of the Lords is clear: to mind the constitution and protect human rights 

Should the House of Lords block Brexit? Even the most diehard Euro-enthusiast would find it difficult to justify such an action. It is only necessary to consider how embittered Liberal and Labour supporters and governments became when the Lords periodically attempted to block the popular will to realise how asinine any attempt would be.

It is one thing for the elected members of the Commons to exert their claim to sovereignty – difficult as that has been, given that the referendum in effect transferred it to the people so that Parliament was no longer unequivocally “supreme”. It is quite another, and an absurd one, to have the peerage thwart the popular will.

So Baroness Angela Smith, Labour leader in the upper house, was quite right to make clear that she and her peers had no intention of doing so. She was also right, however, to assert the Lords’ right and duty to ask the Commons to think again about aspects of any legislation of this kind. If they were to abrogate that responsibility, then they may as well get on with abolishing themselves. In an imperfect and largely unreformed upper house, the higher role of the Lords is clear: to mind the constitution and protect human rights.

Nowhere is the moral imperative to protect human rights more immediate than in the case of the three million European Union nationals now settled, living and working, in education or retired in this country. The Government has rejected such guarantees when proposed in the Commons by Harriet Harman.

Here are the Lords asking ministers to rethink their attitude, and at least offer some sort of reassurance and compromise. The case is plain. They should not be used as bargaining chips, because they aren’t. What they represent is a body of people who make an enormous contribution to the life and property of the nation. Britain will not be making any concession to Europe or doing the EU a favour if it guarantees their rights to live in the UK; it will instead be depriving Europe of that resource and ensuring that Britain continues to enjoy the benefits of what they have brought to this country. So much of the context of this debate is set around the assumption that the UK is somehow lumbered with these foreigners, but it is essential to get out of that mindset. The case for a unilateral pledge by the UK towards these people then becomes overwhelming.

To be fair, ministers say that the EU Commission will not engage on the question until Article 50 is triggered. At that point, there seems to be consensus, the reciprocal rights of EU citizens in Britain and British expatriates in the EU, many retired in Spain, can be swiftly sorted out. That is the most likely outcome, and by far the happiest. And yet the ideal solution, one that would in all likelihood command an equally generous response from the other side of the channel, would be a simple unilateral guarantee that all those who are here now – or perhaps backdated to the day of the referendum result, have an untrammelled right to remain indefinitely. What’s more, that would get the rest of the Brexit negotiations off to a harmonious start and, perhaps, lessen the risks of sour recriminations later on.

As with the Irish border question, there are some relatively important human issues that should be dealt with as a priority, before the talks get bogged down over the price of fish. The Lords, we may be sure, will make all these points with their usual grace and generosity of spirit. The Commons should reciprocate.



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