The constitution in the UK is a confusing minefield of unwritten traditions and precedents. The passage of the government’s Article 50 bill this week is doing an excellent job of highlighting not only some of the more archaic elements of the UK’s institutions but also many of the issues posed by the Brexit process.
An unintended consequence of the campaign to free the UK from the perceived shackles of an undemocratic system is that it has served to highlight some of the highly undemocratic processes within the Westminster system itself. Perhaps even more ironically, it is now those who would traditionally be the first to defend the ancient institutions and customers, the political right, who now lead the attack on the House of Lords in anticipation of any attempt to influence the course of Brexit. Clearly in this conflict of political interests, the desire to leave the EU overrides any traditionally conservative appreciation for parliamentary convention.
A conflict also exists for those on the left, where criticism of the unelected Lords normally finds a happier home. While many on the left may be happy to finally have right wing support for Lords reform, they may also relish the opportunity for the Lords to scrutinise the governments Brexit plan; an task in which many consider the official House of Commons opposition to have failed. No doubt some may also get a laugh out of the current situation, whereby it is the undemocratic House of Lords who are pushing amendments to allow the Commons to scrutinise government policy.
Overall, Brexit has shone a light on many of the confusing aspects of government at Westminster and questioned some of the traditional loyalties of the left and right. Most of all, the practicalities of implementing Brexit have demonstrated just complex the concepts of sovereignty and democracy truly are. While many who supported Brexit did so in order to ‘take back control’, some may be starting to wonder where exactly that control has actually been taken back to.