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Britain needs a second referendum – but not on Brexit

10 January 2018

11:11 AM

10 January 2018

11:11 AM

Nigel Farage has called for a referendum on the House of Lords. Earlier this week, on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, wearing his trademark dapper hat and velvet-collared coat, Farage laid into Lord Adonis’s anti-Brexit agitation, branding him a ‘dishonest, disconnected, twisting little weasel’ — ouch! He then said that if Adonis’s antics are ‘what the House of Lords is all about’, maybe we do need a second referendum — not on Brexit, but on the Lords itself, ‘a referendum to sack the lot of them’.

This is the most correct and brilliant thing Farage has ever said. We do need a referendum on the Lords, and I know which side I’ll be on: for abolition. For the complete removal of this arrogant, commoner-taming, legislation-fiddling unelected second chamber; this abomination from history that once pitted aristocrats and bishops against the political decision-making of the plebs, and which now pits non-aristocratic but similarly unelected members of the great and good against us, their wagging fingers always primed, their know-all corrective instinct permanently charged.

A Lords referendum would be the perfect follow-up to the EU referendum: just as voters swept aside the suits of Brussels who assume to know better than us what laws and regulations we should live by, now we must have the chance to do the same against homegrown meddlers in democratic political life.

This isn’t the first time Farage has agitated against the Lords. (How extraordinary that it falls to a man from the right to make the radical case against an institution Thomas Paine once called ‘the remains of aristocratic tyranny’, while Corbynistas remain schtum on it because they hope caring barons will occasionally question or weaken the Tory government’s welfare-trimming legislation.)

Last year, he called for ‘another referendum’, a complement to the EU one, on whether we should ‘continue with this unelected House of Lords’. Of course, at other times he has wondered out loud why he or someone else from Ukip isn’t in the Lords, so he needs to make his mind up. Should it go or should he go into it? Or maybe he wants to take the Lords down from within, as he aspired to do with the EU.

Britain is ready for a Lords referendum. The past year-and-a-half of Brexit tumult — I think this tumult has been wonderful; others, of course, think it has been awful — has thrown into sharp relief what the Lords is all about. Perhaps recognising that an energised electorate that is happy to throw off the shackles of EU technocracy might also be prepared to call time on the Lords, the inhabitants of that archaic chamber have started to panic. And, as a consequence, their colours have shown.

Lord Adonis has openly said he wants to ‘sabotage Brexit’. He has stated his intention to oppose Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Bill ‘relentlessly’ when it comes to the Lords. Quick reminder of some numbers: votes for Brexit: 17,410,742; votes for Adonis to go into the Lords: 0. Wind your neck in, Andrew.

Lords Heseltine and Mandelson have also indicated their desire to slow Brexit. Channelling the aristocratic attitude of her predecessors in that chamber, Baroness Oona King of Bow said us voters were misled, and it is her job as a privileged member of the unaccountable second chamber to ‘scrutinise the decisions of those with democratic authority — in this case, the British people — [and] bring more facts to their attention’. Do one, Oona. Patience Wheatcroft (sorry, I’m not doing titles anymore) is reportedly one of ‘several dozen’ of her fellow peers who are dead set on ‘delaying’ Brexit.

This open lordly agitating against a democratic decision shows just how much Brexit has rattled the establishment. Fearing for their own essentially technocratic position, for their right to use their ‘expertise’ to scrutinise democratic decisions in this era when voters have made it clear they don’t like that kind of thing, sections of the Lords are closing ranks against Brexit. They know the threat it poses to people like them.

And that’s what some of us like, even love, about Brexit: its stirring of Britain’s old, historic, often lower-class sense of democratic energy. You see it everywhere. On Question Time, where audience members now say things like ‘The people are sovereign’. On Twitter, where ordinary, possibly non-university-educated people rail against the likes of Lord Adonis for his threats to dilute Brexit. In everyday conversation: even friends of mine who, unlike me, were not previously in favour of getting shot of the Lords are now openly wondering if perhaps that’s what we should do.

We should. Or, rather, we should have the choice to do so. Come on, politicians, give us another referendum. Ask us another bracing, historic question — ‘The House of Lords: should it be retained or abolished?’

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