Benn, Bercow and Letwin

Hilary Benn's legislation dealt a fatal blow to British interests during our negotiations to leave the EU; House of Commons Speaker John Bercow masquerades as an impartial arbiter of parliamentary process; while Oliver Letwin's amendment has kicked the Brexit can down a road to nowhere, writes Christopher Goff.

Do you think it's in his genes, like something he just can't help? Or do you think the anti-British mindset of Hilary Benn, son of the now deceased Labour Party grandee Tony Benn, is something that was instilled in him during his early years, and perhaps in large part by his father?

Before the successful passage through parliament of his piece of legislation aimed at trying to prevent Britain from leaving the EU without a deal – the terminology Remainers like to use is 'crash out of the EU' – Hilary Benn had been an ardent campaigner, only not for the post-Brexit rights of those Briton's settled in the European Union, but for the rights and privileges of those EU citizens who are settled in the UK. Indeed, I believe the European Union has yet to guarantee the post-Brexit rights and privileges of British nationals living in the EU in the same way that Britain has guaranteed the rights and privileges of EU citizens living in the UK.

One could be forgiven for thinking that kinship is somewhat of an anathema to Hilary Benn, and this because of his natural, in-built inclination to put the interests of foreign nationals before those of his fellow British citizens. That the Benn Act had the effect of loading things in favour of our European rivals during negotiations to leave the EU was hardly surprising – his legislation was true to form liberal tomfoolery that must have had the EU's Chief Negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, laughing his socks off. Talk about having the rug pulled from under you!

The Benn Act prevents the UK from leaving the EU without a deal, the introduction of which had the effect of ruining the Prime Minister's bargaining hand since it ruled out the possibility of the UK leaving the EU on WTO terms. And if there is one scenario that Michel Barnier, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Council President Donald Tusk and the heads of the remaining 27 EU member states do not like it is exactly this one because of the possibility of such an outcome precipitating an economic downturn across the continent of Europe.

So, what happened in consequence of the Benn Act is that during withdrawal negotiations the Prime Minister ended up having to offer too many concessions. In particular, Boris Johnson's deal compromises the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in as much as it proposes the creation of a customs border in the Irish Sea. Under Johnson's deal, DUP representatives to the Stormont assembly were also to be deprived of their veto over any future customs arrangements, and these two key things were enough to prevent the DUP's ten MPs from supporting it. But that was something Boris Johnson had already bargained for – a different customs arrangement for Northern Ireland was, in his mind, a price worth paying if it meant getting a Brexit deal signed off.

Hilary Benn's legislation, dubbed by some the 'Surrender Act', will forever stand as a testament to both his anti-British mindset and his stupidity. But what is even worse is that his legislation has, of course, come into play. Because of the failure of MPs to approve Boris Johnson's deal in a meaningful vote by 19 October [2019], the Prime Minister has had to send a letter to the President of the EU Council seeking an extension to Article 50. As I write this, the date for Brexit is now likely to be put back until 31 January 2020, if we are ever to leave the European Union at all.

And we all know who was to blame for delaying the meaningful vote which was supposed to have been held in a special sitting of the House of Commons on Saturday 19 October, don't we? Step up Sir Oliver Letwin, the former Conservative Party MP who now sits as an independent and who since managing to single-handedly delay the much anticipated (understatement of the year) meaningful vote on Brexit by his forwarding of an amendment has been rather aptly described in some quarters as the 'cleverest stupid person in Westminster'. While the sitting of MPs went ahead as planned on 'Super Saturday', the meaningful vote never happened.

Brexit is now delayed as per the provisions of the Benn Act, meaning the Brexit can has been kicked not only down the road, but down a road to nowhere, and an endless one at that. While Oliver Letwin might claim that his amendment was only intended to create an "insurance policy" so as to ensure Britain would on 31 October not "crash out" of the European Union without a deal, he has in fact done a pretty good job of derailing Brexit altogether since more delay gives anti-Brexit MPs the opportunity to amend the deal. And if parliament begins making unilateral changes to the Prime Minister's deal, well then it will very likely turn into something unrecognisable from that which he negotiated with the EU, thereby making it to all intents and purposes null and void. Labour's shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has already said his party will push for a UK-wide customs union with the EU as well as single market alignment, and back moves to try and put any final deal to a referendum.

Interestingly, rumours that Oliver Letwin's idea was actually the brainchild of a prominent Remainer have begun to emerge. One furious Tory insider was reported to have claimed that the brains behind Letwin's "act of sabotage" was a certain Lord David Pannick, someone whom you might recall was the barrister who represented the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller when, in 2016, she challenged the Government in court, demanding MPs be given a chance to block the triggering of Article 50. And likewise, he was the barrister who again represented Ms Miller this year [2019] when she successfully challenged the Prime Minister's prorogation of parliament in the Supreme Court.

An article in The Daily Telegraph [20 October, 2019] titled "Oliver Letwin: The 'cleverest stupid person in Westminster'" told of how Lord Pannick had been described by a bitterly disappointed supporter of the latest Brexit deal as "the organ grinder" and Letwin "the useful idiot". Other news stories in the mainstream media drew on another anti-Semitic trope by claiming that Oliver Letwin "had been colluding with Lord Pannick for up to a month, happily taking on the role of puppet to the scheming puppeteer". In fact, there were more anti-Semitic tropes swirling around on the Internet in connection with the alleged relationship between Oliver Letwin and Lord Pannick, both of whom are Jewish, than you could shake a stick at.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has also been the subject of much criticism on account of his handling of procedural matters related to the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, or what has become more commonly known as the Brexit Bill, through parliament.

After the failure of parliament to hold a meaningful vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal as planned on Saturday 19, Bercow rejected a request by Tory MPs to hold the vote the following Monday, saying to do so would be "repetitive and disorderly".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said of this decision: "The Speaker has yet again denied us a chance to deliver on the will of the British people". The Brexiteer MP Bernard Jenkin was scathing in his criticism of Bercow, saying it was "remarkable" how often the Speaker "pleased one lot and not the other", adding "It is most unusual for a Speaker so often to prevent the government having a debate on the matters which the government wish to put before the House". While another Tory MP, David TC Davies, said to Bercow of his decision: "The only consistency one can find in your rulings is that they always seem to favour one side of the argument and never the government".

Throughout the Brexit process Bercow has been a thorn in the side of the government, seemingly bent on trying to frustrate progress on the matter of our leaving the EU at every twist and turn. In my article titled 'Democracy = fool's gold' which appeared on the Wild Boar website on 19 January 2019, I told of how Bercow had ripped up age-old parliamentary rules in order to allow the passing of an amendment tabled by Tory arch-Remainer Dominic Grieve forcing the government to come up with a Brexit Plan B within just three days of the defeat of Theresa May's deal, the aim of which, in my opinion at least, was to provide Remainers with greater opportunity to try and stop Brexit.

Contrast this with the 'stickler for rules' Speaker of the House who chose to deny MPs a vote on Boris Johnson's deal because in his opinion the debate had already happened and under the rules of the House it was not to be repeated. Note, however, that while the Prime Minister's deal was indeed debated, the meaningful vote did not take place, thereby perhaps paving the way for the vote to be held at a date not too distant in the future, especially given the importance of the event and the need to break the parliamentary stalemate and move the country on. On this matter of parliamentary procedure it is interesting how democracy can on one day mean one thing, but on another something else, do you not think so?

But what about all the people who voted for Brexit and whose will as expressed in a national referendum no less has been so consummately frustrated by the likes of Hilary Benn, John Bercow and Oliver Letwin? At this point you might like to know that in my 'Democracy = fool's gold' article, I also wrote of how Britain has in some ways become a modern-day version of the Weimar Republic – a democracy without democrats, or a democracy in name alone. And so it would be appropriate for me to ask: Does anyone need reminding of what happened to the Weimar Republic?

Lastly, I would say to all those Members of Parliament who are doing their damnedest to try and prevent Brexit from happening … the will of the people sometimes has a strange way of making itself heard.

Copyright © Christopher Goff
Tag: Brexit
Uploaded: 24 October, 2019.