Some people say that the EU is not democratic. Are they having a laugh?

Graphic showing the EU parliament (705 elected members), with the UK parliament (650 elected members, 837 unelected members)
Image by Jon Danzig

Compare the European parliament with the UK parliament. The EU parliament has 705 members, all directly elected by the citizens of 27 European countries. The UK parliament, however, has two chambers – one with 650 elected members, and the other now with 837 unelected members. 

The number of unelected members of the UK House of Lords dramatically rose yesterday with the creation by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, of 17 new peers.

Mr Johnson was accused of cronyism for giving a peerage to City trader, Peter Cruddas – even though the independent House of Lords appointments commission objected to his appointment. It’s the first time that a prime minister has rejected a recommendation of the 20-year-old commission, whose remit is to propose and vet nominations for membership of the Lords.

  • Mr Cruddas, who is estimated to be worth £860m, donated £3.3m to the Conservative Party, as well as £1.5m to the Vote Leave campaign. 
  • He also gave £50,000 to Mr Johnson’s party leadership campaign in 2019 saying, “I think we need a Brexiteer as our next prime minister”.

In 2012, Mr Cruddas resigned from his post as co-treasurer of the Conservative Party after the Sunday Times claimed he was offering access to the then prime minister, David Cameron. He successfully sued for libel, although his damages were reduced when the newspaper appealed.

Mr Johnson published a letter he sent to the commission’s chairperson, Lord Bew, explaining his decision to ignore its recommendation not to make Mr Cruddas a peer. He wrote: 

“The events in question date back eight years and the Commission has found no evidence of any matters of concerns before or since that time”.

Prime Minister Johnson was also accused of cronyism last summer, when he elevated his brother Jo Johnson to the Lords, as well as a number of his mates.

Of the 17 new peerages created yesterday, eight are Tories. The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, proposed five new Labour peers. In addition, four new crossbencher peers were appointed. However, it’s the Prime Minister who advises the monarch on who should be appointed to the Lords.

Graphic showing the EU parliament (705 elected members), with the UK parliament (650 elected members, 837 unelected members). The latest additions to the House of Lords include Boris Johnson's brother, and Tory donor Peter Cruddas.

Unlike other senates in democratic countries, there is no limit on the number of members there can be in the UK’s House of Lords. Any prime minister can appoint as many members of the House of Lords as he or she likes. Peers are eligible to receive a £305 a day allowance, as well as travel expenses and subsidised restaurant facilities.

Professor Meg Russell, director of the research group the Constitution Unit, described the new round of appointments as “outrageous” and said Mr Johnson had “openly flouted” the recommendation of the Commission. She commented:

“It is remarkable that in 2020 there are still no enforceable constraints on how many peers a prime minister can appoint to the second chamber of the UK legislature.”

A report by Lord Burns in 2017 proposed that the number of peers should be reduced to 600.

Some hope. 

Whilst the Tories have plans to reduce the number of elected members of parliament, the number of unelected peers just keeps going up – mostly with old cronies who’ll back the government whatever.

At present, the House of Lords is the only chamber where the government can be held to account, with the peers frequently sending amended legislation back to the Commons. Take the internal market bill for example, which was returned to the Commons to remove the clause that broke international law. How long before Johnson succeeds in weighting this chamber in his favour also?

Weren’t we told that leaving the EU would give Britain more sovereignty, more democracy? 

Sorry, but we’ve been had.

Jon Danzig is a campaigning journalist and film maker who specialises in writing about health, human rights, and Europe. Join the discussion about this article on Facebook.

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