The House of Lords has entered the second day of the second reading of the Article 50 debate. There have been some fascinating contributions, some expected, some unexpected. One in particular stood out.
It has been an interesting week for the House of Lords, starting with Monday’s BBC documentary Meet the Lords. There have been suggestions in the media, allegedly emanating from sources close to the Prime Minister, that should the Lords seek to delay invocation of Article 50, reform of the upper chamber will inevitably follow.
Debate on Wednesday afternoon centred on what is technically called Amendment 9b. The decision of the Lords is whether the Commons should be demanded to provide a guarantee for the rights of EU nationals currently resident in the UK.
The “noble lords” who support the amendment certainly have a noble case. Central to that is that people should not be used as bargaining chips as the UK seeks to reach a deal with the EU. We should end the uncertainty for existing EU residents.
There are some very practical considerations too. Many British businesses employ nationals from elsewhere the EU. In particular, the NHS is dependent on doctors from the EU and indeed elsewhere in the world. Wholesale change within a short time period would contribute to uncertainty in the provision of services.
It is certainly right that those who have contributed to Britain’s economy and welfare are respected and reassured.
A range of debate from the other side was presented. Among those, the headline grabber was Lord Tebbit who controversially referred to why the debate was about protecting the rights of “foreigners” when perhaps A British government should support the rights of British citizens resident in the EU.
One of those is Lord Lawson, currently living in France but returning to contribute to this debate. He guided listeners to the words of the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. The latter was arguably the star of the day.
In summary, the Archbishop started by telling us that he voted Remain. He moved to Britain in 1974 when Idi Amin kicked out Ugandan Asians. Sentamu himself opposed Amin’s behaviour, hence his arrival here.
He presented the historical context of section 9 of the Magna Carta as a basis for British law; no person would be excluded except by the law of the land.
Sentamu proceeded to give yet more context. Article 50 is the start of the Brexit, therefore the negotiation, process. An intervention challenging the “moral high ground” gave him the opportunity to develop further.
In practice, any decision to remove the rights of EU nationals would require further legislation. In the event of a decision to remove those rights, such legislation would have to be presented to Parliament, both the Commons and the Lords. It is unlikely, perhaps inconceivable, that such a bill would succeed. No British government should ever sink to the levels of Idi Amin.
Sentamu’s contribution was powerful in many ways. Even those of us who are convinced atheists have to recognise the simplicity, the clarity and the democratic process encompassed in his arguments, even if we supported the rationale behind the amendment.
What Sentamu has also done, probably inadvertently, is to provide a case for the inclusion of clergy in any reformed House of Lords. His was a voice of reason.
As for the debate, those who have been resident for more than 5 years have the right to permanent residency. Article 8 under European Court of Human Rights those with family here also have rights.
The accompanying Article 50 white paper confirms that it is the government’s intention to secure the rights of both EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals resident elsewhere in the EU.
In the event, the amendment was approved by 358 to 256, a total of 614 Lords (perhaps more) have claimed their £300 attendance allowance and expenses. There were 2 more unelected Lords than elected MPs who had voted in the Commons process.
The elected house will be justified in overturning the Lords’ vote. British law already provides protections for EU nationals living here. The EU may seek to deny reciprocal rights. If they are to seek to deny British nationals abroad those same rights, then we can be delighted to have voted in a referendum not to be a part of a totalitarian EU that seeks to emulate Idi Amin.
As the process continues, we can thank God, if he or she exists, for the guidance of those such as the Archbishop of York.