Thu, 19 Jul 2018
NEWBURY MP Richard Benyon has defiantly stood by his decision to reject amendments to the Prime Minister’s Customs Bill this week, saying the Government should support the ‘Herculean’ task of securing a sensible Brexit deal.
The bill scraped through in the Commons on Monday evening, surviving by just three votes – 305 votes to 302 – after a backlash from pro-EU Conservatives.
Mr Benyon was one of 14 Tories who rebelled against a critical amendment which would prevent the UK from collecting duties or VAT on goods on behalf of the EU, unless there was a reciprocal arrangement from the latter.
The Government-backed revision was put forward by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s hardline Brexit European Research Group (ERG) in light of the Prime Minister’s procurement of the Chequers deal, which Mr Benyon hailed as “the way forward”.
The Newbury MP added that he voted against the amendments tabled by the ERG on the basis that the Chequers deal adhered to the wording of the Brexit White Paper and because he wanted “to cut the Prime Minister some slack”.
Mr Benyon said: “I thought it was wrong to have accepted the amendments of the ERG.
“I wanted to remind the Government that they have a policy and they should stick to it.
“It was clear from what emerged that the ERG sought to wreck the Government’s negative position by putting in these amendments.”
Downing Street, which agreed to accept the four amendments, said they were ‘consistent’ with the White Paper.
But Monday’s narrow majority prompted some pro-EU Tories to accuse the Prime Minister of ‘caving in’ to the party’s Eurosceptic MPs.
When asked whether his party was succumbing to the pressure by his colleagues pressing for a hard Brexit, amid a backdrop of split party politics, Mr Benyon said the Government should stand its ground.
“The minority of Conservative MPs who are pushing towards a hard Brexit should not be the tail that wags the dog,” he said.
“Right across, parliamentary parties are split. There’s a real difficulty in trying to get a sensible Brexit that respects the referendum.
“People are exasperated. It’s incredibly complicated.
“There are those who want to fight for their own particular strand on either side of the soft or hard Brexit.
“The Government should not be swayed by one side or another.
“It’s a Herculean task and we should be supporting the Government in trying to achieve a sensitive Brexit.
“By voting against the wishes of my colleagues, I was actually supporting Government policy.”