This morning, when I saw that David Davis had called on peers to “do their patriotic duty”, my immediate reaction was to condemn him as “bloody arrogant”. It was as if he was implying that anyone who would like to see the UK remain in the EU was “unpatriotic”, which is naïve, insensitive and, for many – especially peers – insulting. If they bothered to listen to him at all, after being at the receiving end of Mrs May’s daily admonishments, I would imagine that many Scots would have writhed in disgust: they are visibly the most patriotic people in the UK but find no difficulty in reconciling their patriotism with a determination to stay within the European Union.
It was only when I was half-way through turning a large compost heap, marveling at the industry of the thousands of woodlice who were breaking down the piled-up vegetation into top quality food for our summer vegetables, that it struck me how excellent was the advice proffered by Davis. Was he not urging members of the House of Lords to put patriotism first in their deliberations, asserting the ultimate sovereignty of Westminster over the executive arm of government when dealing with the most fundamental decision to be taken by our country during our lifetime?
A patriot is a person who is devoted to his or her country, who is usually prepared to do things for the good of their country ahead of any personal considerations. The ultimate manifestation of patriotism is to be willing to sacrifice one’s life for one’s country.
Sadly, patriotism wasn’t very visible in the House of Commons during the debates on invoking article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in recent days. Some MPs bravely defied their party whips to express their conviction that the negotiating position set out in the White Paper would be hugely damaging to the country and to the livelihoods of British people. But many others, while acknowledging the potential damage, lacked the courage to challenge their party leadership’s position, and instead put themselves ahead of doing what they knew was for the good of the country. To make matters worse, instead of blaming themselves for the outcome, to which they had contributed against their better judgment, they heaped the blame on government ministers.
In so doing, they have greatly damaged not only their own credibility with their constituents but have also undermined public confidence in the House of Commons to put the general good of the country ahead of party games and personal ambitions.
And so, let us hope that members of the House of Lords will take to heart the good advice given by Mr Davis and follow their patriotic instincts without the slightest hesitation. This would almost certainly mean sending the Bill back to the Commons, incurring the wrath of the Prime Minister. But, in so doing, they would know in their own hearts that they had done what was right and, in the process, helped to restore public respect for Parliament as the ultimate guardian of national sovereignty.
Maybe, when each gets up to talk, he or she should start by citing their patriotic credentials.
Perhaps the time would then have arrived for Mrs May to elevate Mr Davis to the House of Lords.