Comments by Lord Roberts that likened Theresa May’s approach to Brexit to the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933 have been met with disdain by several of his counterparts in the House of Lords, but the Llandudno peer is well within his rights to flag historical warning signs as we enter a perilous period for politics.
The Liberal Democrat politician claimed the Prime Minister was trying to undermine the role of Parliament as Adolf Hitler did when he seized power with his Enabling Bill.
Criticising Mrs May’s “reluctance” to allow parliamentary involvement in Brexit negotiations, he said it goes back to “Berlin in March 1933” when the German Reichstag (Parliament) passed an Enabling Bill which “transferred democratic rights of the parliament into the hands of one man”.
“That was the Chancellor, and his name was Adolf Hitler”.
Former Conservative minister Robert Halfon told MPs he found the comments “absolutely disgusting and shameful”, saying they trivialise evil. But it is right and proper that we use history to learn from the mistakes that laid the grounds for repressive and evil governments in the past. Do we not flag previous financial collapses when the banks get reckless? Or cite instances of civil unrest when societal tensions mount? As Norman Cousins once said, history is a vast early warning system, and we shouldn’t be afraid to use it as such regardless of how grim the comparison is.
So you can forgive Lord Robers for waving the red flag.
It was only yesterday that it was revealed that vulnerable women are so afraid of being deported they are not reporting violent and sexual abuse to police or seeking protection. The news comes as immigration checks get carried out in GP surgeries, hospitals, schools and colleges which are said to be “trapping survivors of abuse, trafficking and forced marriage in violent situations”. The report, entitled Women Living in a Hostile Environment, can be added to the mounting evidence of the harm being caused by repressive policies carried out on behalf of the government.
Little wonder, therefore, that May’s ‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policy was compared to ‘Nazi Germany’ by her own ministers last month. Lord Kerslake, head of the civil service when Theresa May was Home Secretary, told Newsnight that several Conservative MPs saw her hostile regime to immigrants as ‘reminiscent of Nazi Germany.’ He criticised the climate she created whereby immigrants had to prove their status to access services, and said it was wrong that Conservatives had blamed civil servants for the Wingate debacle.
It is understandable, of course, that people are reluctant to compare modern democratic governments to Nazi Germany. But when early warning signs are there we should not be afraid to let our concerns be known. Hats off to Lord Roberts for speaking out – few in a similar position would dare.