Lords Brexit defeats are forcing MPs to face crucial choices

meg-russellOne part of the government’s flagship Brexit legislation is now nearing its parliamentary endpoint after the EU (Withdrawal) Bill completed its report stage in the House of Lords in early May. The UK parliament’s second chamber inflicted 14 government defeats on the bill, which sets out arrangements to facilitate Brexit. It will soon return to the House of Commons for these various issues to be considered. Meg Russell examines some of the issues this may cause for the House of Commons and parliament as a whole.

The Lords’ interventions have led some to claim that this is a “peers versus the people power grab”, or even that the chamber is behaving in an “unconstitutional” manner. But while the current situation may be unusual, it’s not for the reasons many commentators claim.

There have been many past standoffs between governments and the House of Lords, some far more serious than this one. The most famous clashes occurred a century or more ago under Liberal governments, including over the 1832 Great Reform Act and Lloyd George’s 1909 “people’s budget”. The largest recorded annual number of Lords defeats– 126 – occurred under Labour in 1975-76. Defeats under the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were commonplace – for example there were 12 on the 2005-6 Identity Cards Bill. Continue reading

You never know with referendums: a view from Denmark


The Danes have had eight EU referendums to date. Charlotte Antonsen, a veteran campaigner and former Danish MP, relates her experience of these and draws out lessons for the upcoming British campaign. This piece was originally published as part of the UCL European Institute’s first guest editor week on openDemocracy.

In Denmark we have had eight EU referendums in the last four decades. As a former member of the Danish parliament and EU spokesman from 1990 to 2007, I’ve been directly involved in planning and campaigning for four of them. Below I will share the lessons the UK may draw from this experience, and explain what happened in our last EU referendum in December, the rejection of which came as a big surprise to many.

Voters vote as they please

We have asked the Danes all kinds of different EU-questions. Each time the people have answered yes or no, but it wouldn’t be right to say that the Danes actually answered the question that was put to them on the ballot paper.

Only three months ago we had an EU referendum about freedom, security, and justice. It was about changing one of the Danish opt-outs to a voluntary opt-in model. The reason is that we will have to leave Europol next year if we don’t change the opt-out. So the idea was that the referendum should primarily be about Europol.

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