Brexiteer Lord Lawson has raised the sinister possibility of ‘understandable insurrectionary forces’ if parliament attempts to delay Brexit.
He warned of a deepening ‘rift’ between politicians and the public and that ‘an ugly situation’ was developing.
He made his comments in a debate in the House of Lords, where pro-Brexit peers are attempting to resist a Bill which would force the prime minister to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process beyond 12 April and would give parliament the power to decide the length of this delay.
Former Conservative leader Lord Howard of Lympne – who is also a prominent Brexiteer – also criticised the backbench move to push through the legislation, which was narrowly passed by the House of Commons on Wednesday. Lord Howard said the House of Lords should act as a ‘brake’ on the actions of the House of Commons, which he accused of breaching the conventions of Britain’s unwritten constitution.
Lawson said: ‘I have served in parliament for 45 years and there has never been an instance of constitutional vandalism of a scale that we are witnessing at the present time.’
He added that the UK was now ‘paying the price’ for not having a written constitution and hit out at supporters of the tactics being used, who argued that the issue was so important ‘that it is necessary and right to tear up the constitution’.
He said: ‘The reverse is the case. The more important the issue, the more important it is that the constitution and the conventions it consists of are respected.’
Lawson added: ‘I am deeply concerned at the rift between parliament and the people. It’s refusal to accept the people’s judgment on the referendum.
‘I think that there is a real danger that undesirable, but very often understandable insurrectionary forces will feel they cannot trust the British parliament, they cannot trust the British constitution and a very ugly situation could well arise.’
Howard told peers that the UK’s unwritten constitution ‘has its risks’.
He said: ‘In a set of circumstances where a country has an unwritten constitution, the safeguards of our liberties lie with our conventions, our precedents and our procedures.
‘An unwritten constitution only works of the institutions of government respect those conventions, those procedures and those precedents.
‘Under an unwritten constitution the House of Commons has very great power, but the House of Commons should exercise that power with constraint, with circumspection, with respect for those conventions, those procedures and those precedents.’
Supporters of the breach of those conventions argued it was justified ‘because we are in a state of national crisis’, he said.
But Howard added: ‘That is the pretence which tyrants have used down the ages for abrogating the safeguards which have existed in those countries to safeguard the liberties of citizens.
‘Surely if your lordships’ house has any role and responsibility it is to put a brake on the breach of those conventions, those precedents and those procedures which has undoubtedly taken place in the House of Commons.
‘Be under no illusion what has happened in the House of Commons will set a precedent.
‘It will set a precedent which may be followed in circumstances which would have a much more dire effect on our liberties than the issues we are debating and discussing today.
‘If that precedent is to be tempered, the only body which can do it is your lordships’ house.
‘That is why your lordships’ house should today put a break on the breach of those conventions, those precedents and those procedures.’