At a time when politics has never been more convulse, the corridors of Parliament offer a unique view into the world of policy and debate. Brexit is the event of the year (and probably of the decade), and the Houses of Parliament at the heart of Westminster are, more than ever, center stage for the changes to come. Last Tuesday, 21st of February, part of the World Youth Alliance UK team visited the British Parliament. On the order of the day, the House of Lords was debating on Brexit and The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, an issue of vital importance for the country (and the Union itself!).
The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. Independent from the House of Commons, its role is to complement the work by this chamber, by sharing the task of making and shaping laws and checking and challenging the work of the government. As part of the visit, aimed at gaining frontline experience of policy and the political process, the team sat into part of the debate and listened to different Lords and Baronesses discuss some of the many issues that have arisen with the new political scenario. As so, we listened to the interventions made by Lord Bilimoria, Baroness Neville-Jones, Lord Livermore and Baroness Jolly. A diversity of issues which will affect the country during the negotiations arose, with most of the peers expressing concern with the government’s actions so far.
The crossbench peer Lord Bilimoria was the first intervention we listened to. ‘As much an EU-Eurosceptic as any brexiteer’, he nevertheless raised important issues related to the referendum and its complexity. Trade, immigration and the legitimization of the vote itself were issues he expressed concern with, and, given the complexity of the situation, he argued that a respect for the will of the people must be so even when people change their minds, quoting Keynes: “When the facts change I change my mind with them”, until finally qualifying the issue of Brexit as “watching a train crash in slow motion”. With this, he raised one of the most talked about problems with Brexit: whether or not the final agreement should be submitted to the popular vote. All speakers expressed their worries with the development of the negotiations and the decision by the government of following a ‘hard-Brexit’ which could potentially harm the country. As Lord Livermore expressed, the path followed by the government is not representative of the variety of reasons the people of Great Britain decided to vote to leave the union. He particularly criticized proposals made by government ministers on deregulation (making the UK the ‘new Singapore’), which would, he stated, be detrimental to the nation and which were not presented to the public before the election took place. Indeed, this was a theme throughout the interventions, and many of the peers discussed the fact that the meaning of the vote has been distorted to suit the government’s plans, some even questioning the legitimacy of the government itself. As Lord Livermore stated, in relation to trade and regulation, the results of government actions and proposals could indeed go against the desires of many voters who decided on a ‘Leave’ vote because of worries on the funding of the NHS, for example. Some, such as Baroness Neville-Jones, expressed more positive positions, arguing that the country must do what is best for what it has, and called for ‘national unity’ through a bipartisan effort.
In summary, the event at Parliament and the various interventions offered an interesting view into what the issues at stake are during a period when the great change will take place. And to do so in the chambers of the Palace of Westminster, with live experience of debate and policy shaping, is an invaluable experience, and vital in order to inform an interest in public life and participation in civic and political activities.
Written by Raffaella Breeze, WYA UK Policy Analyst.
To find out more about WYA UK activities in policy and civic engagement, follow the WYA UK Facebook page.