The South West is known for many things. It is the home of Glastonbury music festival, artisan foods and the literary genius Thomas Hardy. For as long as I can recall I had always felt pride in calling the area my home.
However, the South West is also home to the constituency of West Dorset. Standing for the people of this constituency is Oliver Letwin, a Conservative turned independent representative who is responsible for bringing the aptly named Letwin amendment to Parliament this past Saturday.
This was the first time the Commons had gathered on the weekend for 37 years, and also coincidentally, the first time I did not feel pride in connection to where I was from. Instead, watching MPs discuss the amendment, I felt deep concern.
This apprehension arose from the fact that Letwin had put forward an amendment to create further delay on delivering Brexit, which the majority of his constituents had voted for. Ashamed, I knew that he represented an area a stone’s throw away from where I call home.
His self titled amendment is only one of a series of questionable parliamentary behaviours that he has been involved in. He became one of the 21 “tory rebels” expelled from the party after voting against Johnson last month. The 33,081 people of West Dorset who had voted in 2017 for a Conservative to represent them, were now left, instead, with an Independent to voice their concerns in parliament.
As the amendment passed in Parliament with 322 votes to 306, it has created further delay to the approval of Boris Johnson’s new withdrawal deal. However, it is important to understand that it does not by definition mean that MPs are voting against the withdrawal agreement.
But, what it has meant is that the Prime Minister has been legally required to send a letter to the EU council requesting another extension to the Brexit deadline. Although, in the spirit of never missing the chance to find a political loophole, Johnson neglected to sign the letter. The amendment may have forced him to craft the letter to Donald Tusk, but he denied it from carrying the weight of his signature.
Letwin claims his purpose was never to stop Brexit. His intention was only to put forward an “insurance policy” to avoid crashing out without a deal on October 31st, and that legislation was dealt with in a timely manner. Supporters of Letwin have agreed that this provides time for the UK to legislate leaving the EU with all the information at hand.
However, there is an issue with this sentiment. In a similar way that joining the EU in 1973 was a new path for the UK, so will be the process of leaving it. A request to legislate with all information to hand is a tall order considering it’s a political first. If we had adopted this attitude in the past we may have never known achievements such as the discovery of the electron or even the introduction of a women’s right to vote. Neither of which were done with full knowledge of the practical implications that would ensue.
There are some consequences that even the most gifted political analyst may not be able to predict, this does not mean we should introduce delay after delay into Parliament. The Government has been given ample time to deliver on Brexit. If we wish to retain our credit on the international stage, the time to get Brexit done is now. In fact, the time has long passed, but there is little we can do to alter that.
To add to the frustration, in an interview with the BBC, Letwin has now come forward to explain how he will support the deal “now that his amendment has been backed by MPs”.
I hold up my hands and admit that I voted to remain in the 2016 referendum. However, one of the defining features of democracy is that sometimes your opinion does not emerge victoriously. Britain has gone too far down the path of Brexit to alter its direction now.
Vast amounts of time, money and resources have gone into the negotiation process, one that has been estimated costing approximately £500 million each week. Delaying the inevitable does not make Letwin the hero of the hour nor does it make him a champion of the people, instead it has made him the enemy of democracy.
Simply put, the Letwin amendment changes what it means to be a Member of Parliament. It places political point-scoring above acting as the voice of the people. It had no place in Parliament and certainly no place in our democracy. With it receiving 322 votes it sets a precedent of giving legitimacy to this type of behaviour from our politicians. Yet sadly, we are unable to turn back the clock.
To sit in the hallowed halls of Westminster is a privilege. Brexit negotiations have created confusion around many aspects of British politics. Yet, this honour of being an MP shouldn’t be included in this redefining era Britain has found itself in.
Vernon Bogdanor reported in The Telegraph that the amendment was “unconstitutional”. This may well be true. But political analysis aside, it was a waste of time that we didn’t have.