Day two of the Lords debate on the Brexit Bill, and a hundred speakers to go. Can anyone have the strength to listen to all ten hours of this?
Especially as one’s attention is drawn to the distressing sight of Lord Humbug, embedded in a row of more distinguished figures. As plain Henry Humbug MP he played a forgotten, but for a day or two vaguely significant, role in a Tory leadership campaign towards the end of the last century.
Humbug has his reward, but looks 20 years older. It occurs to us that he actually is 20 years older. Worse than that, he looks at death’s door, and can hardly totter to his place. What an emblem of mortality, and of the vanity of human wishes.
We did not enjoy listening to Humbug in the Commons, and will avoid his contribution this afternoon in the Lords, but for a moment we feel a twinge of pity for the self-important old fool.
Lord Willoughby de Broke, who with Lords Pearson and Stevens makes up the UKIP contingent in the Upper House, congratulated Theresa May on her Lancaster House speech: “It was a transformational speech, it was actually my Lords a UKIP speech.”
If he is right, what need is there for UKIP?
The most emotional contributions at the start of the debate came from bereaved members of the losing side. Lord Liddle, a Labour peer who used to advise Tony Blair on European matters, expressed “terrible sadness” at the referendum result: “I hang my head in shame.”
He denounced the present leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for never being “a European true believer” and for leading Labour MPs into the division lobbies “alongside a right-wing Tory government dancing to Iain Duncan Smith’s tune”.
Liddle added that Keir Hardie “never flinched in the face of the jingoists and imperialists”, but declined to express an opinion about Sir Keir Starmer, who currently leads for Labour on Brexit.
Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws – the barrister Helena Kennedy – said their grandchildren would want to know: “Did you dance to the tune of the Daily Mail?” She urged her fellow peers to say: “Not in our name!”
Lord Lisvane, who as Sir Robert Rogers was Clerk of the House of Commons, warned with lucid authority of the risk that Brexit, if mishandled by Parliament, could lead to “a major transfer of power to the Executive”. His speech deserves to read in Hansard.
Baroness Kramer, one of the large contingent of Lib Dem peers, claimed in the urgent tone she would have employed in an emergency debate at the Lib Dem conference that the financial services industry was in danger.
But Viscount Trenchard calmed peers by recalling that when he represented Kleinwort Benson in Japan, it “derived its standing from the fact it was a British firm, headquartered in London”, and this had “nothing to do with being a member of the EU”.
Baroness Altmann, who served as Pensions Minister, warned that MPs risk rushing “headlong into lighting the fuse of a two-year time-bomb”, and urged them not to “lead the country over a cliff-edge without taking care to put in strong safety nets”.
Danger, mixed metaphors ahead! But perhaps leaving the European Union is not a manoeuvre that can very usefully be compared to taking out a pension plan.