Burt delivers parting shot at Cummings as he announces decision to stand down
Stripping the whip from senior Tories who rebel to prevent a no-deal Brexit would be a “policy of insanity”, former minister Alistair Burt said as he announced his decision to stand down at the next election.
The veteran Tory, who first entered Parliament in 1983, also hit out at the influence of Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser Dominic Cummings, claiming it was an “extremely concerning situation”.
The 64-year-old is one of the sponsors of the cross-party legislation aimed at making sure the Prime Minister cannot take the UK out of the European Union on October 31 without the agreement of Parliament.
The Prime Minister has threatened to remove the Tory whip from all Conservative rebels, which could potentially see senior figures including former chancellor Philip Hammond and ex-justice secretary David Gauke – who were in the cabinet until July – lose the chance to defend their seats at the forthcoming snap election he has promised to call if defeated by the cross-party Brexit measure.
Mr Burt told the PA news agency: “I would regard that as a policy of insanity.
“Should the party take away the whip from senior colleagues who have held senior office in recent times, I think the public would find that extremely strange.”
Mr Burt, who was MP for Bury North from 1983 to 1997 before winning North East Bedfordshire in 2001, is well regarded in Westminster as a moderate voice and he raised concerns about a shift to the extremes in politics.
“The tendency of modern politics to forget the need to reach out to secure votes from people who may not have voted for you before, people whose opinions you want to change, is being replaced by a determination to circle the wagons and to hang on to the votes of people who have already voted for you and become more determined to ensure that they stay onside, even at the cost of more extreme policies, rather than risk losing them.
“It’s not only in the United Kingdom, of course, it’s in the United States, it’s elements of Europe, so this is nothing strange but clearly that is an element of politics that I find extremely worrying and I deplore.”
He said that while he believed Mr Johnson wanted to be a One Nation Conservative he “also represents part of that anti-EU tendency” in the party.
“He will have to work very hard to balance that out. I think he is wise enough to do so,” Mr Burt said.
Taking aim at Mr Cummings, the former minister continued: “Whether (Mr Johnson’s) advisers are wise enough to do so, I don’t know.
“That is one of the modern fears. The people who have been at the top of the Conservative Party, officials, in my experience have either been neutral civil servants on whom the party could depend or loyal party administrators who carry a lifetime of memory, understand the Conservative Party from top to bottom.
“The Prime Minister’s closest adviser has no sense of this whatsoever, quite the reverse. He despises politicians, presumably despises the process of democratic politics, only sees it as a vehicle to use.
“I think that’s an extremely concerning situation and the Prime Minister will need to look as to how to address that.
“But he is certainly not a senior adviser in the sense that they have been and if that marks a change, the sort of change colleagues have noticed when they say the party is no longer what it was, I think that’s a worrying development.”
Explaining his decision not to stand again in a letter to party members in North East Bedfordshire, Mr Burt said: “It has become clear that I have a fundamental and unresolvable disagreement with our party leadership on the manner in which we leave the EU, and the consequences going forward of doing so.
“This is very likely to be at the root of the next election, and I believe it is unfair of me to present you with a conflict of interest between my views and those of the party at an election, even if current circumstances do not result in my having the whip in Parliament removed.”
He told PA: “One of the reasons for going is that, if I didn’t go, I would become the sort of person I didn’t want to be. I would be the person coming into the tea room that everyone would shift away from and say, ‘oh god, he’s going to talk about Europe again’.
“I would be (Muppets characters) Waldorf and Statler sitting at the back corner mouthing away at government ministers. I don’t want to do that with the remaining years of my productive life.”