Brexit Lords Have a Cheek to Complain about EU Democracy; It Is Ridiculous for a Group of Unelected British Peers to Criticise the Lack of Accountability of EU Institutions

The Evening Standard (London, England), June 6, 2016 | Go to article overview

Brexit Lords Have a Cheek to Complain about EU Democracy; It Is Ridiculous for a Group of Unelected British Peers to Criticise the Lack of Accountability of EU Institutions


Byline: Nick Clegg

LAST week I found myself debating the UK's membership of the EU on the radio with the immensely likeable Digby Jones, a proud Brummie, a former trade minister, a businessman, a Brexiteer and also a member of the House of Lords.

As a Brexit peer he is in good company: Norman Lamont, Norman Tebbit, David Owen, Michael Howard, Nigel Lawson and other lords also support Britain's exit. From their lofty perch they berate the EU for being economically deficient, expensive, bureaucratic and, above all, undemocratic. Without the slightest hint of irony, Lord Lawson has declared that "one of the most unattractive aspects of the European integrationist movement is its contempt for democracy". Pots and kettles immediately spring to mind.

It is one thing to criticise the eurozone for its economic difficulties which, to be fair, was the focus of Jones's comments but quite another to pontificate about the democratic deficiencies of the EU from one of the most bloated, and unelected, legislative chambers in the world? With more than 800 members, the House of Lords is only second to China's National People's Congress in size and is about as undemocratic: unique in Europe, its members can revise and amend the laws of the land without anyone actually being elected. It is, in short, an affront to the basic democratic principle that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those who obey the laws of the land.

Yet this obvious inconsistency appears to have escaped Lord Lawson et al when they berate the EU as "profoundly undemocratic". I find what they do every day in the House of Lords profoundly undemocratic too.

Similarly, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling and the other Brexit ministers appear to be entirely untroubled that they serve in a Government that garnered no more than 24 per cent of the eligible vote. Such an undemocratic outcome wielding unchallenged power when three quarters of voters either voted for another party or didn't vote at all is, it seems, acceptable to these high priests of democratic virtue.

The truth is that our own democracy is in need of a complete overhaul. Westminster is hopelessly stuck in the past: MPs are not allowed to shake each other's hands on the parliamentary estate; we can't call each other by our names and must instead use arcane titles such as "my right honourable friend" or "the gallant and learned gentleman". We are not allowed to clap in the Commons so we register our approval by manically guffawing and waving papers instead.

The chamber, designed to encourage confrontation, is often full of pucefaced, middle-aged men gurning and shouting at each other from a few feet apart. There is even a rifle range below the House of Lords and the cloakrooms have hooks for MPs to hang their swords. It is hardly a reflection of modern Britain.

The answer, obviously, is to reform it. That's what I tried to do with limited success during five years in government. As the two larger, established parties blocked all meaningful reform to party funding, to the House of Lords, to our electoral system I became increasingly frustrated at the way the Conservative and Labour Parties protected their vested interests. …

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