JACOB REES-MOGG: In the twilight zone of the House of Lords, the vampires have tasted blood and now they’ll want more
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In the twilight zone of the Lords, the vampires have tasted blood and now they’ll want more
The cure for admiring the House of Lords is to go and look at it’. This sentiment, expressed, over 150 years ago, by England’s most revered constitutionalist Walter Bagehot, is just as true today.
British voters, in a referendum, decided to leave the European Union. They reinforced this choice in the General Election of 2019 by giving Boris Johnson a thumping majority. And their representatives in the House of Commons duly sent a bill designed to deliver freedom from EU law to the Lords.
In what amounts to an outrageous betrayal of the popular will, their lordships objected. The most Remain-orientated quango in the land once again decided it knows better than the British people and, in the face of its opposition and to his eternal shame, our prime minister downgraded his proposed Brexit bonfire of 2,400 laws to a miniature pyre of just 600.
Politicians need to stick to what they said they will do. I’m afraid it’s no good being holier-than-thou if you then end up behaving like a Borgia.
JACOB REES-MOGG: ‘In the twilight zone of the Lords, the vampires have tasted blood and now they’ll want more’
British voters, in a referendum, decided to leave the European Union. They reinforced this choice in the General Election of 2019 by giving Boris Johnson a thumping majority
Forgive me if I sound a little impassioned but it was me, after all, who introduced the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill in the Commons last summer in a bid to reduce the EU’s ongoing baleful influence over our everyday lives.
Over the decades of our membership of the EU, a continuous stream of laws, rules and regulations were imposed upon us. Parliament could not block them, as the edicts from Brussels were deemed to trump British laws even if our ministers had voted against them.
EU regulations reached the statute book without any Parliamentary discussion, while directives had to be implemented according to the will of the EU, or else the European court would overrule and even, on occasions, fine the British government.
In short, penalties were imposed by an unaccountable bureaucracy on a democratic state.
All this was designed to Europeanise the United Kingdom by bringing our laws into harmony with the other member states and then make sure we didn’t stray from the one true path laid down by Brussels. Inevitably, when we finally left, these rules were still the law of the land and they may be viewed on an online government ‘dashboard’ that lists a remarkable 4,800 of them.
The most Remain-orientated quango in the land once again decided it knows better than the British people
They include regulations affecting every aspect of agriculture and industry, including the indubitably crucial EU green banana marketing standards regulations.
Equally inevitably, the United Kingdom will need rules for itself and some of the 4,800 will be kept, albeit in modified form, to meet the legal context of the UK rather than that of the EU.
Yet the process of revision and repeal, promised by Rishi Sunak both during his leadership campaign and once he took power, ought also to ensure that rules that hamper competition, or regulate for their own sake, are ditched.
This is unquestionably a challenging task but not an impossible one.
And the fact that the Government had already ear-marked £4million for external legal support in pursuit of this endeavour makes its subsequent decision to back down all the more extraordinary.
The House of Lords has become increasingly willing to flex its geriatric muscles. Until recently, the Lords had come to accept that it was the prerogative of the Commons, as the elected chamber, to set policy. This tradition is no longer observed. The Lords has moved from amending, to improving technical details, to objecting to policy.
This change is vividly illustrated by the growing number of defeats it has inflicted on the government, a trend that has become markedly more apparent since Brexit. During the coalition years from 2010 to 2015 the government was defeated 100 times, yet just between 2019 and 2022 the government suffered 244 defeats.
In the face of its opposition and to his eternal shame, our prime minister (pictured on Wednesday) downgraded his proposed Brexit bonfire of 2,400 laws to a miniature pyre of just 600
On a pro rata basis this is a near quadrupling of defeats and is driven by the Lords’ hostility to Brexit and a desire to support multinational bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights against domestic law.
Its actions are unbalancing the constitution and the failure of the government to rebut it will encourage the Lords in its unjustified power grab. By virtue of its nature and composition, the Lords has members whose views are those of yesteryear.
Many members of the Lords, including some who receive generous but undeclared pensions from the EU, considered our membership of the bloc to be set in stone. Because they do not have to interact with voters, they failed to observe the sea-change in attitudes that has taken place in recent years, and – partly as a result – consider most Brexiteers to be troglodytes. In their rarefied, wood-panelled dining rooms, the grubby issue of democracy is rarely condescended to.
In persuading the Government to water down its bill, the Lords has won a mighty victory. And if it can prevail on an issue as important as the jettisoning of EU law, it can also win on the question of small boats by amending the Illegal Migration bill out of all effectiveness when the implementation of its provisions has never been more urgent.
In the twilight zone of the House of Lords, the vampires of our political system have tasted blood and will now want more. Having defeated a proposal backed by two elections, a Commons majority and a prime minister’s promise, it will be simplicity itself to block any one of Mr Sunak’s five pledges.
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