Several West Lindsey district councillors have called on Gainsborough MP Sir Edward Leigh to “resign the whip” and relinquish his position within the Conservative party. In an open letter addressed to Sir Edward, Councillor Sabastian Hague (Liberal Democrat) highlighted that the government’s handling of the RAF Scampton asylum centre shows that the concerns of his constituents are not being properly acknowledged.
He asserted that a decision to leave the party would emphasise his commitment to the community, a sentiment supported by 12 fellow local Liberal Democrats and one Independent councillor. Sir Edward Leigh has been the Conservative representative for Gainsborough since June 9, 1983.
The open letter from the WLDC councillors said: “We, the undersigned, collectively pen this letter as concerned residents, members and representatives of the West Lindsey District & Gainsborough Constituency.
“For a significant duration, you’ve occupied one of the safest Tory seats in the country. Yet, despite the faith many constituents placed in your ability to defend their interests, there’s a growing sentiment that the pressing concerns of your electorate are being sidelined.
“Nowhere is this sentiment felt more acutely than in the matter of RAF Scampton’s proposed use as an asylum centre.”
It continued: “The implications of this proposed usage reverberate deeply within our community. Not only does it affect the constituents negatively on a multitude of levels, but it now jeopardises the £300 million development plan, a venture that holds significant promise for our region’s future.
“The palpable dismay and unrest stirred by this proposition can’t be understated, and it’s imperative for you, as our representative, to not only register, but actively respond to these concerns. It’s disheartening to note that despite your efforts, senior members of the Tory party, including figures like the PM Rishi Sunak, Robert Jenrick MP and Suella Braverman MP, appear to have consistently overlooked or outright ignored your attempts to voice our collective anxieties.
“This chain of disregard paints a troubling picture of a disconnect between the Conservative leadership and the constituents of Gainsborough. One of the methods you’ve proposed to prevent the use of RAF Scampton in this manner is exiting the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – a stance that many find profoundly disturbing.
“Advocating for such an exit not only reveals a disregard for our democratic foundations, but also introduces an idea that is abhorrent at its core and has no rightful place in our society. With the weight of these pressing matters on our collective conscience, we earnestly urge you to convey a clear, indomitable message to both Gainsborough’s constituents and the wider Tory party.
“A decision to resign the whip would underscore your commitment to Gainsborough residents, asserting your dedication to truly champion their concerns and values. Sir Edward Leigh MP, the challenges at hand compel you to stand tall and unwavering for the principles you’ve pledged to uphold. It’s time to bridge the growing divide between your convictions and the direction of the Tory party, ensuring that our voices, concerns and interests aren’t merely acknowledged but finally acted upon.”
West Lindsey District Council Leader Trevor Young (Liberal Democrat) was one of the notable signatories on the open letter. He added: “Edward Leigh MP is a prominent figure in British politics, known for his staunch support of the Royal Air Force. However, recent events have raised concerns about his complicity regarding the use of RAF Scampton for an asylum centre.
“RAF Scampton has a rich history as the home of the famous Dambusters squadron during World War II. It holds immense sentimental value for many people and is an important part of our national heritage. Yet, there have been rumours circulating about how Scampton was chosen by the Conservative government.
“Has Edward Leigh been complicit in the government’s plans from the start? As a representative elected by the people, it is his duty to voice their concerns and fight for their interests.
“Furthermore, Leigh’s close ties with the Conservative Party leadership raise suspicions about his true intentions. Is he prioritising party loyalty over the welfare of his constituents?”
In response, Sir Edward Leigh wrote: “As the representative of all the inhabitants of the Gainsborough constituency, I have always deeply appreciated the efforts our district councillors – across all parties – have made to work for the common good and the best interests of our people. No one has worked more tirelessly than I have in order to advance their cause and protest them from this unwise plan to house illegal migrants at RAF Scampton.
“Since the plan was revealed, I have worked vigorously to badger ministers and officials, putting the case against their proposals and arguing in favour of the £300 million regeneration deal which we have arduously crafted. Regarding the ECHR, I continue to believe this is a wise and sensible document which remains an effective guideline of how we expect free and democratic governments to behave.
“Unfortunately, the jurisprudence issued from the European Court of Human Rights has dramatically undermined the Convention itself by self-interestedly expanding their own powers at the expense of democratic accountability. This has been unwise and counter-productive.
“There would be no need for the strenuous efforts I have made on behalf of constituents to fight against officials’ plans for Scampton if we did not have unsuitable numbers of illegal migrants entering our country.
“Every attempt that the Conservative government has made to deal with this issue effectively has, alas, been opposed at every turn by Liberal Democratic MPs and peers, tabling hundreds of amendments to neuter the government’s efforts to defend our borders and end this crisis. It is disappointing that we in West Lindsey are reaping what they have sown.
“My record is second to none in representing our constituents and making very clear to ministers and officials the folly of their proposals. Their inboxes are full of correspondence attesting to this and you can almost hear the groans from the front bench when I stand up to speak on this in the House of Commons.
“Up to now, we have all worked together on this locally. I think it is a pity the Liberal group is now trying to politicise this, which will do our cause no good. The best way to win is with cogent legal and value-for-money arguments.
“I see little point in gesture politics. Were I to resign the whip, I would become an opposition party of one with even less influence on government than the small band of Liberal MPs. At least now ministers have to listen to the coherent arguments I am making, reply to them and treat them with respect.
“I am grateful for you taking the time to express your concerns, but I give you my every assurance that I will continue to work unceasingly for the people of West Lindsey in opposing any threat to their security, prosperity or welfare.”
Councillor Hague said it was “disheartening” to see Sir Edward “dance around the pressing concerns” laid out.