Image Credit: Maurice
Sir Oliver Letwin, an ex Conservative MP, now sits as an Independent after being among the 21 rebel MPs who were suspended for supporting the Benn Act against the Johnson Government on 3rd September. On 19th October, at a “super sitting” of Parliament, Letwin proposed an amendment that would withhold approval of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal until Parliament has passed the necessary legislation to enact it safely. This amendment automatically brought the Benn Act back into relevance. Johnson was forced to write to the EU for a further extension until 31 January.
Letwin aimed to keep in place the “insurance policy” provided by the Benn Act, to safeguard the country from “crashing out” without a deal. It stemmed from the fear of possible loopholes. Once the deal was supported by MPs, the essential conditions of the Benn Act were to be fulfilled which, in turn, would dissolve the need to call an extension. A no-deal exit remains a viable option nonetheless. If complications in the legislative process surface and prove difficult to be solved by the deadline, a no-deal exit will be forced by default.
The House of Commons voted in favour of the Letwin amendment, 322 to 306. With the EU accepting a postponement, the UK’s departure has been put on hold. Supporters argue that the delay will provide sufficient time for legislative scrutinisation, to ensure a steady exit from the EU. Opponents, however, view it as an unnecessary obstacle to procrastinate, and perhaps even block, the Brexit process as the deadline loomed.
The passing of the amendment undoubtedly paved the way for an election to be called for the 12th December. The long term effects of the amendment, however, will certainly emerge as the MPs hit the campaign trail. Especially with Letwin now standing down as MP for his constituency of West Dorset that he has held since 1997.
The question of whether to remain in the customs union is also still present. While many view remaining inside the union as a betrayal of the goals of Brexit, others believe it is the safest option for the UK. MPs must determine whether to trade with EU countries without tariffs or to obtain our own trade deals elsewhere.