I had two weeks away from Westminster. It looked horrifying

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This article was written for The Times.

My baby boy was born about two weeks ago. As for any family it was an amazing experience for ours, welcoming this little guy into the world, and I took some paternity leave for about ten days while voting in parliament by proxy – the first father to do so in parliamentary history.

However, what was politically relevant was the sense of perspective it gave me about our travails. No, I didn’t have any Damascene conversions. I supported the PM’s withdrawal agreement before paternity leave, and I still do.

Before I went away, inside the Westminster house of horrors things felt pretty bad. MPs (including myself of course) were not as courteous as normal, irritable, tired, incapable of even bothering to talk about anything other than the B-word. Grim.

However, when you are an MP (especially as a Conservative one) you do feel at the centre of things. If you want to discuss the legal advice, you can grab the attorney-general in the lobby. If you want to see if the whole European Research Group is going to vote for the damn thing, you can catch Steve Baker in the tea room (at time of writing, the answer is no).

Whichever party you are in, whatever your view, there is always a group of similarly minded folk to comfort you through the noise and battle. The atmosphere is not good, but there is a sense of drama, excitement, and close friendship with others.

However, for the time I was away on paternity leave, changing nappies and chasing around both Hitchin and Harpenden looking for baby rash cream and various breastfeeding aids, I stopped feeling like an MP and I saw things from the outside. It was horrifying. No wonder the country is emotionally and politically exhausted.

From the outside, the Brexit debate made me feel distant and completely impotent. There was lots of people shouting, but I couldn’t make any sense of it. I was completely at a loss as to all the technicalities and the jargon that journalists keep repeating despite the fact that only about ten people outside Westminster understand what they mean, and a majority of MPs don’t know either.

The current winners of the impenetrable Brexit language competition are the “Malthouse compromise”, the “Cooper/Boles/Letwin amendment”, and “Common Market 2.0”.

Let me explain why things are at such an impasse. The fundamental reasons are the hung parliament and the Fixed-Term Parliament Act. The first means that it only takes 20 Conservative MPs to hold the government to ransom, and the second means that MPs don’t automatically fear an election even if they vote down the government’s signature piece of legislation (as had been the case for the last few hundred years of parliamentary history).

Add to that the naked political fact of the Labour Party just opposing everything that the government does in the hope of provoking chaos, despite the fact that the withdrawal agreement delivers pretty much everything the Labour Party says that it wants.

This is not to suggest that parliament is in its finest hour. Brexit has been a huge stressor to our whole system. Our modus operandi (from both government and opposition) still pretends that British governments can always rely on a decent majority.

As we enter into a world where I predict we will continue to see close elections and hung parliaments, we are going to have to adapt to genuinely engage with and scrutinise legislation in a more honest and less party political way.

In the meantime, we need to stop the point scoring and realise that every day without resolution to Brexit is a day when confidence in British democracy is draining away.

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1 Comment

  1. John Green ( 07434 225437) on

    Dear Mr Afolami,
    Congrats on the new born, but am not surprised you noticed the chaos outside of the Westminster confines. Having been a stalwart Tory for many decades the latest antics of many Tory MP`s, frankly brings a bad taste to my mouth. Whilst I voted for Brexit I do understand other peoples views, but equally expect majority decisions to rule the day. After all, every MP was elected on those terms, some on paper thin margins. I also thought I appreciated the feeling within the St Alban constituency, which voted to remain in the EU. Although of course this was in light of both main parties campaigning to remain, which many Tory`s, faithfully if not enthusiastically followed. Without boasting I was one of the very few who believed the government had totally misread the public mood, and following my latest delivery of Tory local government literature, I can only say they are yet again massively out of touch with the voters. The degree of resentment held by many many Tory and Labour voters, of being denied their democratic majority view, by a Tory government, tells me that ignoring these people will result in a massive absentee or desertion to UKIP vote. Whilst I notice you feel the gulf between Westminster and the general public, clearly many Tory MP`s do not. Not sure how you can manage it but someone has to make Westminster Tory MP`s appreciate the danger of their current decisions. May I suggest that holding a number of very select private meetings where all MP`s have to express the majority Brexit view of their constituents and also explain how ignoring those views will convince Tory voters to support them or their successors in future elections. May I just end and advise that the latest move by number 10 to seek Brexit rescue from Corbyn will destroy any chance of a future Conservative government. I can assure you that all of my family would never again support a Tory party whose policy is dictated by Labour, which they will rightly claim, loud and clear. Better for us to leave, follow our own dictate and allow the EU to offer us trading terms better if possible than we will enjoy outside of the EU. The UK does not have to implement any harsh import duties, let the EU make the changes and we make considered responses, common sense will soon prevail in Germany even if Mr Macron thinks otherwise.

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