The new PM’s inbox and Chilcot

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We now know who the next Prime Minister will be. A vote among the Party membership would have been good for the members who deserved their say but most have told me they wanted the matter resolved sooner than the nine weeks it would have taken. Theresa May will run a competent and professional administration. And it will need to be. There are so many matters to address. First among them is how we extricate ourselves from the EU. This will require skills of negotiation and engagement that would daunt most of us. Then there is the need to show the world we are still a leader in trade, diplomacy and security. Then there is the domestic agenda on which the Government was elected last year. I feel tired just writing this. While Brexit is important I don't want it to dominate the next few years. It is so important that we continue the vital reforms in education, welfare, health and in our criminal justice system. 

 

The long-awaited publication of the 2.6 million word Chilcot Report into the Iraq War took place on Wednesday. I believe that most people had already taken a settled view about this episode in our recent history. There is a general acceptance that Britain went to war on the basis of false information and that the allied plan was deeply inadequate in how it dealt with post-conflict Iraq. I often ask myself how I would have voted in that key Parliamentary moment if I had been in Parliament at that time. I like to think that my caution and concerns for what was proposed would have held firm. However I know some MPs who intended to vote against war but were swayed by Tony Blair at his oratorical best. One said to me that he was left absolutely convinced by Blair’s speech that he knew things that he couldn’t share and at that momentous time he had to give the Prime Minister of the day his support. He remains deeply affected by that decision to this day.

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A tumultuous week

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One of the best films ever made is Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. At its denouement, the character played by Joe Pesci is having the best day of his life as he is taken to be sworn in as a full member of the mafia. In the precise moment of his triumph he realises a split second before it happens that he is actually being assassinated. This scene came to mind as I saw Boris Johnson make an exit from the leadership race after his friend for 30 years and his campaign manager, Michael Gove, announced that he would be standing against him. Please don't take this analogy too far. Comparisons between the Conservative Party and the Cosa Nostra are not to be inferred. However hard fought the leadership campaign gets, no one will end up “sleeping with the fishes”. Beds will remain free of horses’ heads. But politics can be brutal.

How to describe Parliament last week? Across the two main parties power shifts were underway. The Prime Minister returned from what must have been a sad and awkward European Council looking somehow younger. His statement to the House was filled with humour and he seemed unburdened. Around the building I saw Labour MPs in tears as they faced recriminations from Corbyn supporters following the mass resignations from his team. Among Conservative colleagues cabals of MPs were meeting. The next door office to mine seems to have become something of a hub for one candidate and the one across the corridor for another. One journalist was claiming battle fatigue having covered the election, the Labour leadership election, the referendum and now all this. Bless!

I took my time to talk to candidates and after a meeting with Theresa May I decided that she is the one I will support. She has run a very difficult department and has done it well. To me she would bring a calm authority to Government and would be a formidable negotiator in the difficult process we now face of extricating ourselves from the EU. A tumultuous week in politics and I predict more to come. I’m all for politics being interesting but a dull week wouldn’t come amiss.

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The will of the people

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The people have spoken: Britain will leave the EU. I am of course deeply disappointed that, while my side may have won in West Berkshire, we failed in the country at large. We will have to see whether the fears of those of us who wanted to remain were overstated or if the promises of the leave campaign can be fulfilled. Along with people who have opposed me in politics in West Berkshire for years, I fought hard to keep us in the EU. I didn’t do this out of any starry-eyed love of the EU or its institutions but principally because it is better for our economy and our security. Now the realisation is starting to sink in. Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the markets, Sterling, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, British people living abroad, EU citizens living in Britain, the mountain of legislation to be torn up and rewritten. All of this has now to be sorted out.

 

The referendum has divided families, friends and work colleagues. Some say the result is the baby-boomer generation “doing over” the younger generation. Others say if more young had voted it wouldn’t have happened. Perhaps we can all spend too much time trying to over-analyse something that has happened. Time would be better spent looking ahead. Whatever people feel, there will now be lots of work in Parliament as we seek to find the best way to implement the will of the country. I will, of course, respect the referendum result but I need to find a way of Britain leaving the EU that has the least adverse impact on the lives of my constituents. That will require an open mind as I seek to do something that I campaigned hard to prevent. I hope I can have the support of everyone in West Berkshire, regardless of how they voted. We need to respect the democratic process and find a way of doing this and uniting our fractured nation at the same time.

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Decision day

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We have a big decision to make, a decision that will shape not just our future but our children’s futures. Should we remain in the EU or should we leave?

There are arguments on both sides - the EU does lots of good things but there’s lots wrong with it too. If the answer was obvious, the polls wouldn’t be so close. I’m grateful to the thousands of constituents who have attended the public meetings I held around the constituency, spoken to me when I have been out campaigning or emailed me to let me know their views.

Having listened to all the arguments, I believe that we should remain in the EU for four main reasons.

1. We’re better off in the world’s largest free market

First, I think West Berkshire and the country as a whole will be better off if we remain in the EU. At the moment, we’re part of the world’s largest free market. Our businesses can sell their goods in any of the 27 other member states without restrictions or having to pay any tariffs. If we leave, they’ll lose that access. Of course, they’ll still be able to trade with the EU, but not on as good terms as they have now. If you’re not convinced, think about it for a minute: if the EU gave us as good access after we left as we have now, every other country that makes a net contribution would leave too. Why would anyone stay a member of a club if you can get all of the benefits without paying a penny?

And if businesses in the UK didn’t have as good access to the EU market as they have now, they would export less and major international firms would be less likely to have offices or factories here. That would mean some people would lose their jobs and the Government would have less tax revenue to spend on things like the NHS, pensions and schools (or have to put up taxes).

So a vote for Remain is a vote for a stronger economy, more jobs, lower taxes and more funding for our public services.

2. We should work with our neighbours, not go it alone

Tomorrow’s vote isn’t just about money though. It’s also about what kind of country we want to be.

Co-operating with other countries isn’t easy. It involves negotiation and compromise - you don’t always get your own way. But many of the biggest problems we face - tackling climate change, combating terrorism, improving the quality of the air we breathe, making sure big companies pay their fair share in tax, deterring aggression by countries like Russia - can only be solved by working with other countries, particularly our immediate neighbours.

The Leave campaign says that if we leave the EU, we can take back control of our own affairs, but the truth is we would have less control, not more.

Take air quality: if we left the EU, it’s true we could make our own laws about how much pollution cars and factories in Britain can emit. But we would no longer have any control over the pollution emitted by cars and factories in continental Europe - and when the prevailing winds are from the wrong direction, that pollution drifts over Britain. And the companies that make cars in Britain sell those cars not just in this country but across Europe. So if the EU passed a law requiring tougher standards, those companies would probably adopt those standards. In other words, we would still end up following EU laws, but we would no longer have any say over them.

I don’t want to live in a United States of Europe, but nor do I want to live in a country that pretends it can go it alone and has less influence in the world as a result.

3. Leaving would be a huge leap in the dark

It’s become clear during this campaign that the Leave campaign don’t know exactly what will happen if we vote for them tomorrow. They don’t know how quickly a new trade deal with the EU will be in place. They don’t know which of the rights we have under EU law, like maternity and paternity leave, would be kept. They don’t know whether we’d still be able to travel to EU countries without a visa and get free healthcare while we’re there. They don’t know whether the French will move our border controls back from Calais to Dover with all the problems that would cause. We needed answers to those questions and we haven’t had them. If we vote Leave tomorrow, it would be a huge leap in the dark and there’d be no going back.

4. We should listen to our young people

The decision we take tomorrow is going to affect our children and grandchildren far more than it is going to affect many of us. It’s their freedom to study, travel and work abroad, their job prospects that are at stake. The polls show that in overwhelming numbers, young people want us to remain in the EU. We should listen to them.

Respecting the decision you take

That’s my view, but whatever your view I hope you will vote tomorrow. When I stood for re-election last year, I promised that I would vote for a referendum to let the British people decide our future in Europe. I’ve kept my word and, whatever my personal views, I will respect and implement the decision you make tomorrow.

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Why Jo’s death stunned us all

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Jo Cox’s murder is foremost a personal tragedy for her family. Her death is also a real loss to Parliament. I didn't know Jo well but I knew she was one of those people who was born to be an MP. She was everywhere in Parliament. One moment speaking without notes and knowledgeably about Syria, the next in a meeting of the All Party Group on Ending Homelessness. She turned her hand to so many subjects and had seemed to have grasped from the start how to be effective. She was quick of mind, full of life's experiences and someone who in just a year had made many friends and admirers across the House.

We can perhaps try to deduce too much from her violent murder. Her killer’s motives are becoming clear and he could as easily have been in any other constituency and his victim any other MP. In the eleven years I have been an MP, politics has become more venal. There have been times when I have been concerned for my staff and on occasions we have had to involve the police. Other MPs have faced much worse. During the debate on whether to extend military action into Syria I remember a new female MP passing me her iPad to show me a vile email she had just received. It more or less said that if she supported the Government she and her family should expect what is coming to them. A Labour MP told me of the abuse she received from those who disagreed with her choice of who she wanted to lead her party. The threats were physical and went way beyond anything that can be brushed off as part of the “rough and tumble of politics”.

With the referendum campaign suspended at the weekend, I went on to Newbury’s Northbrook Street to hold an open surgery. I found Newbury and West Berkshire at its best. People were engaged on many issues. As usual they were forthright, honest and good natured. Many of the comments related to Jo Cox’s murder and were deeply touching. Being there reminded me why I love my job and why living in an open liberal democracy matters.

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Richard Benyon was re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Newbury on 7 May 2015, with an increased majority of 26,368. Richard won 61 per cent of the vote share.

 

 

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