The following letter was sent by Richard Benyon MP to members of West Berkshire Conservative Association the morning of Wednesday 4 September 2019. With his permission, we’re reproducing it here verbatim.
I am writing to explain my reasons for supporting the motion last night. I did so in the fullest knowledge of the consequences this might have for me as a Conservative MP.
I strongly believe that we must leave the EU. Despite voting remain, I am a democrat and I believe that the result of the referendum must be honoured. I do not form part of any faction in Parliament that wants to frustrate or prevent Brexit. I voted to trigger Article 50 and voted on three occasions in Parliament for a deal which if more had voted with me, would have ensured that he UK would have left the EU by 29th March.
When Boris Johnson was elected to be the leader of our Party and Prime Minister I offered him my full support. I have been invigorated by his energy and his policy agenda. But hanging over us has been a desire by him and those around him to leave come what may on 31st October. I was pleased by the mood music at his meetings with Chancellor Merkel and President Macron. There seemed the desire to achieve some changes to Mrs May’s deal which would allow the Prime Minister to bring it back to Parliament and get it over the line.
In recent days certain things have concerned me. Whilst I commented against much of the bluster around the proroguing of Parliament I had concerns that part of the reason was to thwart Parliament’s ability to do its job. I have been concerned at comments which indicated that the Government might take a view on laws passed by Parliament as to whether they will comply with them. I am also staggered that threats of withdrawal of the whip or deselection would be made against people who have served our Party and our country for many years, some of them at the highest levels in Government.
With others I met the Prime Minister for an hour yesterday. Whilst he declared his desire for a deal he was short on detail as to how that deal was being sought. Not much was said to reassure those of us who had read an article in the Daily Telegraph that morning setting out how efforts to achieve a deal were at best perfunctory. My mind was made up when following discussions some of my colleagues had with which indicated that people like me would be “purged” and prevented from standing as Conservative candidates.
One of the legacies of the incompetent and negative remain campaign was the so-called “project fear”. This has trashed the brand of those of us who have investigated what a no deal Brexit would look like. Anything I say can, with some understanding, be attacked for being just more of the same. However, I have spoken to Civil Servants, Ministers, their advisors, trade bodies, businesses and constituents of mine who run companies large and small about the implications of no deal.
To pursue such a course would fly in the face of everything I have worked for or believe in. I represent people who work in many different areas of the economy and whilst people on high or even moderately high incomes would be relatively immune to difficulties I strongly believe that the impact of no deal would exert a heavy toll on those least able to afford it.
I am a proud Conservative who believes in a Party which, unlike others, encourages debate and in which a difference of opinions is seen as a virtue not a vice. Our Party is at its best when it makes it’s case in a generous, open manner and governs with pragmatism and with the well-being of the nation at its heart. The left-wing extremists leading the Labour Party and the forces that are pulling at the delicate fabric of the Union will I fear, be enhanced as the impact of a no deal Brexit are felt. The plan of revolutionaries down the ages are for what they would call, “the forces of reaction” to create the chaos which allows them to prosper. In short, they want to create a narrative of a Conservative no deal against which they could campaign to their advantage.
To say my mind has been in turmoil in recent days would be an understatement. I fully recognise that not everyone reading this letter will agree with me. I also recognise that my actions have consequences. It is my intention to stand as the Conservative candidate at the forthcoming election but with the whip withdrawn that is likely to be difficult. I owe West Berkshire Conservative Association so much and hope to continue as your MP. I am sorry if my actions have caused you to doubt me or my judgements, but I feel I that this is a matter of principle. These are dark days for our country and our Party. I wish the Prime Minister well in getting a deal and for all the good measures I know he wishes to carry through and will, of course, give him my support in any way I can in Parliament and beyond.
The Rt Hon Richard Benyon
Member of Parliament for Newbury
9 September 2019: Newbury’s MP Richard Benyon has announced today that he is not seeking re-election at the forthcoming election. He has been MP for Newbury since 2005 having fought the seat unsuccessfully in 1997 and 2002. In an email to the Chair of West Berkshire Conservatives he said:
As you know I was fully aware of the implications of voting the way I did last week and was not surprised when the whip was removed following the vote on Tuesday evening. I recognise that I cannot stand as a Conservative candidate unless the whip is restored. That said, I have received many calls from colleagues saying that there are plans emerging for a “path back” for the so-called rebels.
I have been giving much thought to how that could be achieved but feel now that I should let you know my clear intentions. I do not seek to be the candidate at the forthcoming election whenever it is called.
With an election looming I don’t think it is fair to the Association to continue the uncertainty about my being eligible to stand, let alone my willingness. I intend to continue to give the role of being the Newbury constituency’s MP my full focus right up until the election is called. It is a job I have loved and am proud of what my Parliamentary team, the local Conservative Party and the wonderful group of Councillors in West Berkshire have been able to achieve. For me West Berkshire Conservatives and its wide-ranging membership are the Conservative Party at its best. Without shouting it from the rooftops, over the recent decades we have improved the lives of vulnerable people and supported businesses and the communities we love. With the great local leadership that exists in the Party and on West Berkshire Council I know that this will continue in the future.
I hope the Association will move forward and be further strengthened by the selection of a good candidate to follow me and I look forward to being able to give him or her my fullest support. It has been the greatest privilege for me to be elected four times as MP for this constituency. I hope my successor is able to appreciate how lucky they are to represent an area of great opportunity filled with some of the most decent and kind people you could meet anywhere.
• Letter from Tony Vickers, Chair of West Berkshire Liberal Democrats, 6 September 2019.
• Interview with Judith Bunting, Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East of England.
• Other Penny Post interviews, including with District and Town Councillors in West Berkshire.