Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The 72 year old Arthur Charles Valerian Wellesley is the 9th Duke of Wellington and took his seat in the House of Lords as an 'elected hereditary peer' in 2015. This means he was chosen by the other 42 Conservative hereditary peers and took his place alongside the other 91 hereditary lords and ladies who, in turn, sit alongside the other 530, the 'life peers', who are appointees of variable merit, ranging from those who have distinguished themselves in other walks of life, to those who have distinguished themselves by being long-pocketed donors to political parties.
On the face of it, the fact that, that in the 21st Century, the Duke of Wellington can have a say in the legislation which governs Britain is a scarcely believable anachronism. As Andrew Rawnsley said in the Observer today : 'On this we can agree. In a less absurd world, the 9th Duke of Wellington wouldn’t be sitting in Parliament. It is beyond ridiculous and all the stations to absolutely ludicrous that you get to occupy a seat in one half of our legislature because of the military feats performed by an ancestor more than two centuries ago. You wouldn’t trust your brain to a neurosurgeon whose only qualification for the title was that his great-great-great-grandfather was a neurosurgeon. Yet Britain’s uniquely comical set-up still reserves seats in its parliament for hereditary legislators.'
It is with supreme irony that lords like the Duke are putting a break on the proposed Brexit legislation the Conservative Government is trying to force through Parliament. His contribution was to table a successful amendment that removes the March 2019 deadline for Britain's departure from the EU which is not such an unreasonable idea given the mountain of work which still need to be done before Britain's departure from the EU. It has earned him the particular ire of the leading Brexiteers.
In fact, altogether, the Lords have made 14 amendments to the withdrawal legislation and as a result Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin rages against the House of Lords for its “defiance”. Self-appointed Brexiteer-in-Chief, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has threatened : “It is not a loved institution… It raises the issues of reform.”
The Sunday Express newspaper attacked the good Duke, who receives EU subsidies to maintain his landed estates with the headline :
On Wednesday, Martin Kettle wrote in the Guardian : 'Suddenly, soft Brexit can happen. Thank the Lords' and 'The assault on the Brexit Bill – inspired by the Duke of Wellington – has emboldened Tory moderates. This could be their moment.' As Mrs Thatcher said : "It's a funny old world" - the more so that the hero of the Remainers has manifested himself in the shape of an old lord who has no real right to be there in the first place.