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Anyone watching what went on in Parliament and outside it yesterday would be forgiven for throwing their hands up in despair.  Leaving or remaining in the EU is no further forward.

The current state of affairs is that the Oliver Letwin Amendment was passed on Saturday.  Considering that we were all looking forward to MPs voting on the new deal that Boris Johnson has negotiated with the EU, it was disappointing to say the least.  Now the deal won’t be debated until next week.

On BBC Question Time last week the audience, made up from a fair mix of people in favour of leaving or remaining in the EU seemed to have one thing in common. They just want to get something done one way or the other. Over 3 years of constant division in parliament regarding the Brexit issue is mentally draining for most people.

Standards of acceptable behaviour have sunk to such low levels that MPs need to have police escorts when leaving the House of Commons.  The Letwin Amendment has fuelled even more division.

Who is Oliver Letwin?

Sir Oliver Letwin is the MP for West Dorset.  During his political career he has collected quite a few ‘skeletons’ in his cupboard.

  • In 2015 he apologised for suggesting in a memo to Margaret Thatcher that the 1985 black community, inner city riots, which occurred in various parts of the UK, were due to “bad moral behaviour” not racism and social deprivation as was indicated in reports the then PM had received.  He said that there were white people living in exactly the same deprived conditions for years who hadn’t resorted to civil unrest.
  • As Shadow Home Secretary in 2003, Letwin sought to stop asylum seekers gaining entry into Britain. Instead he suggested they should be processed in a distant offshore location or on prison ships.
  • Also in 2003, Letwin hit the headlines again when he said that he would ‘rather beg on the streets’ than put his children into the state education system.
  • In 2009 he had to repay more than £2,000 in expenses he had claimed for repairs to his tennis court at his Dorset home.

Other Letwin controversies

One of the most irresponsible things Letwin did in 2011 was to dump more than a hundred documents in pubic waste bins located in the St. James Park area.  It was initially alleged that these were secret government papers but after investigation by the Commissioner’s Office it was discovered that he had actually disposed of letters he had received from his constituents which were confidential.  This was a clear breach of data protection regulations.

More recently, last month Oliver Letwin introduced a bill designed to stop Boris Johnson’s government leaving the EU without a deal.  In effect it sought to take away control from the government of parliamentary business. As a result he and 20 of his supporters lost the whip and were, as Conservative Members of Parliament, expelled from the Conservative Party.  They now sit as independents.

More about the life of Sir Oliver Letwin can be learned from his Wikipedia page.

What happened on ‘Super Saturday’?

Hailed as the day Brexit would be resolved ‘Super Saturday’ only served to create more delay and uncertainty.  Instead of passing Boris Johnson’s WA (Withdrawal Agreement) parliament passed Oliver Letwin’s Amendment.  For those who don’t know what the Amendment entails the following is a brief summary:

  1. In order to get the WA to become domestic legislation, it has to have the WAIB (Withdrawal Act Implementation Bill) attached to it. Having been put through the ratification process the WAIB becomes an Act of Parliament. Amendments can be made as the bill passes through the House of Commons and House of Lords.
  2. However, to match our domestic legislation with international law, everything in the WAIB must reflect precisely what is in the WA. If parliament had voted in favour of the WA yesterday, the WAIB would have ensued during the next few days so that it could be debated in both Houses. Since Britain’s domestic law is drafted in a different way to the EU’s, any amendments would need to be reviewed to ensure that both the WA and WAIB exactly match the details contained therein.
  3. The Letwin Amendment effectively reverses the normal order, in that parliament wants to see the WAIB and make any amendments before they vote on the WA.
  4. Since the WA didn’t get approval the Prime Minster is now legally obliged to seek an extension, beyond 31 October, from the EU under the Benn Act (European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019)

As a result the government sent 3 letters to the EU as follows:

  • The first used the precise format and wording in the Benn Act, requesting an extension, but was sent without a signature.
  • The covering letter which accompanied the first was signed by our UK Permanent Representative in Brussels, Sir Tim Barrow. It allegedly states that the first letter is not from the government but from parliament.
  • The third letter was sent to head of all EU member states and signed by the Prime Minister. It states, among other things, that he doesn’t believe further delay would be beneficial for Britain or the EU.

Donald Tusk, on receipt of the letters, stated that he would consult with heads of the member states regarding a further extension.

Are you for leaving or remaining in the EU?

17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union in 2016. There are those who wish to remain despite losing the referendum.  Parliament has proven during the past 3 years that it is incapable of delivering on what the majority voted for.  As a result we have a game being played in parliament, with a majority of MPs, wanting to remain in the EU.  This game evolves around creating new laws to thwart any attempt to conclude the issue.

As a business with interests in Europe, we need to prepare for one scenario or the other.  Whether you support leaving or remaining in the EU let us know how constant uncertainty is affecting your business.

Perhaps not surprisingly, our invitations for selected politicians to take polygraph tests during recent months have fallen on deaf ears.  Maybe if we knew what they were really thinking it would be a lot easier to understand the current fiasco.