Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Britain Decides: Famous names quit Westminster as election is called

Unprecedented roll call of prominent politicians stepping down from the front line

Conservative members of Parliament Nicholas Soames and Rory Stewart talk outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Conservative members of Parliament Nicholas Soames and Rory Stewart talk outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

As Britain's parliament shuts down for the general election called by Boris Johnson at least 65 stalwarts of the political scene are departing for good, including some prominent figures in Middle East diplomacy.

Alistair Burt

The respected former Middle East and North Africa minister has drawn praise for his approach to the region after serving in various government roles as a Conservative MP for 32 years.

Mr Burt, who voted to Remain in the European Union but supported the Brexit deals put forward by the Prime Ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson, made the announcement in early September that he would step down at the next election. He bemoaned “a fundamental, and unresolvable disagreement with our party leadership on the manner in which we leave the EU, and the consequences going forward for doing so”.

He was one of 21 MPs suspended from the Conservative Party in September after voting against the governments proposals but was one of 10 reinstated on 29 October.

After Mr Burt down as a minister in March, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee Tom Tugendhat said: “His experience and friendships across the Middle East and calm command of the detail is unparalleled. His integrity is second to none. I’m sorry to see him go.”

Rory Stewart

The dark horse in the race to succeed previous Prime Minister Theresa May, which was eventually won by Boris Johnson, he caused a social media storm with his approach to campaigning that saw him actively engaging with members of the public on a daily basis.

He too was suspended from the Conservative Party for voting against the governments Brexit approach. But far from retreating from the limelight, his innovative ‘Rory Walks’ is set to continue has he campaigns to become the next Mayor of London. He said he wanted to get rid of “the suffocating embrace of our dying party politics”.

Mr Stewart first rose to prominence as a senior coalition official after the invasion of Iraq and has spoken of his experience brokering a ceasefire between rival militias in Maysan province in the south of the country.

He also famously walked across parts of Afghanistan solo in 2002 and has been forced to reject rumours he was a spy in the UK secretive MI6 intelligence service.

Sir Nicholas Soames

Boris Johnson has been a long-time admirer of Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister who led Britain to victory over the Nazis in World War Two. He even wrote a book on his political idol called The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History.

But Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames, a veteran MP again suspended from the Conservatives for going against the government’s Brexit approach, has slammed Mr Johnson. “To take the whip away from them is a gross act of folly. I think it’s vindictive,” he said upon being ousted from the party, frustrated at any suggestion he was a “serial rebel” and slamming the Conservative Party for beginning to look like a “Brexit sect”. In late October he was, however, reinstated.

In an interview with The Times he also rejected similarities between his grandfather and Mr Johnson.

“Boris Johnson is nothing like Winston Churchill. I don’t think anyone has called Boris a diplomat or statesman. We all know the pluses and minuses, everyone he has worked for says the same thing: he writes beautifully [but he’s] deeply unreliable” he said.

“Winston Churchill was like Winston Churchill because of his experiences in life. Boris Johnson’s experience in life is telling a lot of porkies about the European Union in Brussels and then becoming prime minister. He doesn’t like the House of Commons. He is engaged on this great Brexit obsession: get us out, deal or no deal, do or die. That is not Winston Churchill.

“I think Churchill would have thought it extraordinary that we would have thought ourselves so successful, so powerful, so well thought of in the world that we could afford to give up this extraordinary relationship we have in this great European Union.”

Ken Clarke

As the Father of the House longest serving member of parliament at 49 years, Ken Clarke occupied a number of government positions over the decades and as a Europhile was a serial rebel against the current governments Brexit approach.

Outgoing speaker of the lower house, John Bercow, described Mr Clarke as “one of the most popular and respected politicians in the UK. Mr Clarke, who previously served as a finance minister and in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet.

There was little surprise when, at his last ever Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday, Mr Clarke asked Mr Johnson about the UK’s future relationship with the European Union should the Conservatives win the election.

Highly respected for his deep knowledge, Mr Clarke was at times a particularly colourful and old fashioned character with a penchant for cigars.

Jo Johnson

The Remain-voting younger brother of the Prime Minister stepped down as an MP and minister in September saying: “In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest - it’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & Minister.”

His decision to quit was part of a wider exodus of so-called ‘moderate’ Conservatives who held a more sympathetic view towards Brussels but left as the key positions in government increasingly became occupied by right-wing figures.

While Boris Johnson has long established himself as a Eurosceptic, pro-Brexit figurehead other members of the family disagreed. His younger sister Rachel, a broadcaster, stood earlier this year as a European Parliament candidate for the pro-Remain, Change UK -The Independent Group.

Ann Clywd

The Welsh MP was an outspoken voice on Iraq and in particularly the cause of the Kurdish population during 35 years in the British parliament. She served as a special envoy for Iraq, appointed by the then prime minister Tony Blair.

Her interest in the country was inspired by Iraqi students she met at university in her native Wales in the 1970s. She traveled to the country often and had participated in humanitarian efforts following the brutal aftermath of the Gulf War.

She is a noted advocate for the prohibition of chemical weapons having seen first hand the mass graves that were left behind after the Anfal.

Sir Vince Cable

The most prominent figure in the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats to step down and perhaps the best-known MP in the party. The 76-year-old held various critical roles including party leader and business minister in the Liberal Democrat’s coalition with the Conservatives in from 2010-2015. He unexpectedy lost his seat in 2015 but regained it in 2017.

In 2018, he criticised the state visit handed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and argued the UK government was abandoning its respect for human rights.

“The UK has a strong, proud history of democracy and human rights, but our reputation on the world stage is in danger of being eroded by this Conservative government’s desire to woo world leaders like [Donald] Trump and Erdogan,”

“By permitting a state visit and audience with the Queen, May and Boris Johnson are essentially rolling out the red carpet for a man with a disregard for human rights, who is responsible for alarming oppression and violence.”

Owen Smith

The man who challenged Jeremy Corbyn to the party’s leadership in 2016. He has argued Mr Corbyn lacks the credentials to win a general election and is someone who risks dividing the party over the Labour leaders staunchly left-wing views.

In a short letter to Mr Corbyn explaining that he was standing down, Mr Smith cited “political and personal reasons” as he alluded to the ideological differences between him and the current Labour leadership.

Mr Smith briefly served on the front bench of Mr Corbyn as the shadow Northern Ireland minister but was sacked after voicing support for a second referendum.

“"The truth is that Brexit is not compatible with my values. It is a right-wing ideological project, it is a nativist project, it is fuelled by lies and it was delivered deceitfully in 2016,” the Welshman, who previously worked as a journalist for around a decade, said earlier this year.

Some of those to stand down from the main opposition party did so because they were some of the few Labour MPs to vote for Brexit or, at the very least, oppose some form of a second referendum.

Stephen Twigg

Stephen Twigg rose to prominence in 1997 after he defeated prominent Michael Portillo, Conservative politician and supporter of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in a shock result.

He chaired the parliamentary International Development Committee.

Updated: November 5, 2019 07:06 PM

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