The anti-democratic arrogance of the House of Lords

Unelected peers like Shami Chakrabarti should have no right to lord it over our migration laws.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Politics UK

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If you want to know what the parliamentary bust-up over the UK government’s Rwanda scheme is really all about, then you won’t do much better than an intervention from Baroness Chakrabarti last night. ‘My lords, when they go low, let your lordship’s house go high’, she told the peers assembled in the House of Lords, just before they inflicted several bruising defeats on a bill that enjoys overwhelming support in the House of Commons.

Forget the rights and wrongs of the Rwanda scheme, the government’s policy to deal with illegal migration. At this stage, the debate really boils down to one simple question: who gets to decide how Britain should control its borders? Should it be an unelected establishment, made up of peers, judges and international agencies, lording over us from on high? Or should it be the elected government and the elected House of Commons who are charged with representing the masses?

Chakrabarti and her fellow peers clearly believe it should be up to them. Last night, they set up yet more hurdles to the passage of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which is aimed at removing legal impediments to implementing the Rwanda scheme. They revived and then voted for seven of the 10 wrecking amendments that had only just been voted down by the elected Commons on Monday. This means the government’s plan to have migrants flown to Rwanda for processing and resettlement will face another round of ‘ping pong’ between peers and MPs. And its implementation will be delayed by at least another month – that is, assuming the bill manages to clear parliament at all.

You do not have to be a fan of the Rwanda policy to find the Lords’ intransigence deeply troubling. Not least as it is part of a broader pattern. Ever since the Conservative government first announced the Rwanda scheme way back in April 2022, as a way to try to deter migrants from crossing the English Channel, an unholy alliance of anti-democrats has done everything in its power to stop it. Flights due to take off for Rwanda were blocked at the 11th hour by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Then, the policy itself was batted back and forth between various domestic courts. Ultimately, it was declared unlawful last year by the UK Supreme Court, in a case that relied mainly on representations from UN bureaucrats.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill is Rishi Sunak’s last-ditch attempt to overcome those legal challenges. It aims to nullify the Supreme Court judgement, which declared Rwanda to be an ‘unsafe’ country for the purposes of processing and resettling migrants. It also disapplies sections of the Human Rights Act, gives ministers the power to ignore certain decisions by the ECHR and sets a higher bar for UK courts to delay or block deportations to Rwanda.

The Rwanda Bill has passed comfortably in each of its readings in the elected House of Commons, which for any democrat ought to be the final word on the matter. But instead it is being blocked by that bastion of anti-democratic reaction, the House of Lords.

The 18th-century radical democrat, Thomas Paine, once denounced the House of Lords as the ‘remains of aristocratic tyranny’. Of course, modern-day peers no longer appeal to their distinguished bloodlines as a source of their unearned authority. Instead, the likes of Chakrabarti pose as more ‘virtuous’ and more ‘compassionate’ than our elected representatives. They think they occupy a moral high ground that stands above the lowly public. And they think this gives them the right to meddle in the affairs of the nation. To repeatedly block the will of the elected House of Commons. To ride roughshod over democracy.

The arrogance of these peers is breathtaking. It’s high time we stuck the House of Lords on the scrapheap of history. Democracy demands nothing less.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

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Topics Politics UK


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