It was announced to the population as the ultimate form of democracy. It was presented as the purest form of listening to the will of the people and highlighted the control that would be taken back by British citizens. However, the EU referendum has resulted in an opinionated negotiation between unelected peers, politicians and a Prime Minister who nobody voted for.
The House of Lords voted 358 to 256 to guarantee full rights to EU citizens currently residing in the UK, blocking the House of Common’s decisions for the second time and forcing the parliament to retake the negotiations on Article 50.
Although such a decision is encouraging and provides hope for the millions of EU citizens living in Britain, forcing the government to soften a hard Brexit with extreme consequences for a large number of people, the House of Lords should not be in the position to block a democratic process. Being a decision left to the direct will of the people in the form of a referendum, an unelected chamber such as the House of Lords fails to be in accordance with its democratic principles.
The EU referendum, and especially the Leave Campaign, offered very broad and unclear prospects regarding the position of the UK in Europe from the very start. It was not made clear whether the country would stay in the European Single Market. Such broadness has left a large margin for negotiators, headed by an unelected pro hard Brexit Prime Minister, to interpret all of the Leave votes as they wish and as far as the democratic systems allow them to.
While satisfying the supporters of a complete withdrawal from Europe, Theresa May’s speech declaring her intentions to pursue a hard Brexit also alarmed others; the withdrawal of the Single Market leaves the future of not only EU citizens but also British citizens living in Europe uncertain. The House of Lords voting is thus good news for all who believe that citizens of the EU should not have their lives left in the lurch.
However, regardless of individual opinions, the House of Lords’ blocking is lacking the democratic warranty that a referendum should guarantee. An unelected chamber should not have the power to determine negotiations that are supposed to be done at the most raw and pure level of democracy.
Leave’s pledge to take the country back has been revealed as hypocritical by the lack of involvement that the citizens are actually having in the outcome of the referendum. The House of Lords’ decision, although counteracting the hard Brexit the government is pursuing, only makes more evident how the decision is not owned by the population.
The lack of concreteness of the referendum left the question of what would happen after Brexit unanswered. It legitimised the government’s freedom to play with people’s rights, giving May the capacity to commit herself to the specific version of Brexit she prefers, which does not necessarily correspond to the majority’s will.
The House of Lords’ involvement in the negotiations over Brexit is evidence that shows how the referendum was fundamentally flawed for providing such an unclear future, leaving the essential deals and prospects for Britain at the mercy of the negotiations that the government will manage to achieve.
The outcome of a referendum, as its nature entitles, shouldn’t be decided by such, but by the people.