Bill and Ben: the unelected House of Lords may seem an unlikely defender of the common folk. Photo: Reuters
Bill and Ben: the unelected House of Lords may seem an unlikely defender of the common folk. Photo: Reuters

Britain’s House of Lords this week amended the bill that will empower Prime Minister Theresa May to begin the process of exiting the EU, sending the draft law back to the Commons for a second time with a clause giving parliament the right of final veto.

Was this an irresponsible act of defiance by the unelected upper chamber of Parliament, often regarded as an anachronism?

Manifestly not.

At issue is the status of some three million EU citizens currently resident in the UK and one million UK citizens resident in the EU.

May says that she will protect the residency rights of the EU citizens but only in exchange for similar protection for the UK citizens in the EU.

Such reciprocity is not only desirable but from the perspective of the 4 million people involved it is vital.

‘A little more charm and a lot less cheap rhetoric’
— John Major

The current government claims that it will reverse the Lords’ decision when the Bill comes back to the House of Commons, but if it is sincere about protecting the future of the EU citizens in the UK why do so?

The respective negotiating postures of the UK and the EU are childish and petty.

Former premier John Major’s plea for “a little more charm and a lot less cheap rhetoric” can be leveled at both sides.

For the UK to unilaterally protect the EU citizens resident in the UK would send a clear message of unambiguous intention to negotiate maturely rather than indulge in an absurdly trivial game of chicken.

Sadly, mother hen Theresa appears to be surrounded by political pigmy chicks, more concerned with getting their beaks into the Brexit trough than shedding their infantile down and growing feathers.

Mrs. May probably feels she is immune to criticism, shielded by the cacophonous little Englanders waving their flags of St. George and crowing about the resumption of sovereignty and closing the borders.

Have we not heard this sort of clucking from the orange colored North American rooster?

Tiny minds with myopic vision and seriously mediocre intellect.

This mental vacuity resonates in Hong Kong, where the artificially hair-dyed Chinese cocks of the North are hell-bent on grafting another narrow minded ex-civil servant onto its stunted political stump of an SAR.

After a lifetime of Yes Minister subservience straight out of the “do nothing and it will soon be Buggins’ turn,”  like Malvolio – Shakespeare’s witless manservant in Twelth Night – Carrie Lam will soon have greatness thrust upon her.

The world is being drawn into a magnetic force field of leaders who are, almost by definition, unfit for purpose.

Someone who doesn’t know where to buy a toilet roll or how to use an stored value Octopus card, and who is drawn from the same pool of high flying wannabes as our disgraced former chief-turned-jailbird Donald Tsang, clearly has the pulse of the people.

And if that is not sufficient qualification, why not a leader who never lost an opportunity not to ameliorate CY Leung’s proclivity for confrontation.

How many have forgotten or conveniently chosen to overlook that during Tsang’s term of office not a single public housing unit was constructed, and yet his fall from grace centered on furnishing a sumptuous retirement flat for himself.

This is the man who Carrie Lam described as a role model.

A woman who, when faced with objective criticism simply responds, “That’s just your impression.”

And lest it be overlooked, the hospitals are overcrowded and undermanned, the elderly crammed into homes unfit for a dog, homelessness and sub-divided flats are at record levels, all on her watch.

Universal suffrage will not shield a population from the self-serving vanities and whimsy of a Trump, Erdogan, Putin and Mugabe — nor the crashing mediocrity of a Lam or May.

The world appears to have regressed to an age where ability, expertise, common sense, judgment and wisdom are derided, even held in contempt.

Which brings me back to the House of Lords.

Peopled by an eclectic collection of bishops, Law Lords and a tiny handful of hereditary peers, but mostly by men and women who have been elevated in recognition of their contribution to society, almost by definition they are truly representative of the entire gamut of informed public opinion.

Their amendment reflects the kind of measured response to the needs of the times that would make the world a safer place.

Neville Sarony

Neville Sarony QC is a noted Hong Kong lawyer with more than 50 years at the Bar.