I voted Leave in the EU Referendum on June 23rd 2016, when a majority of those who voted agreed with me. I strongly believe that we must respect that referendum decision. I also accept that the 48% who supported Remain must be given a voice. If we are to heal the deep divisions on this issue in British society, we should do everything possible to deliver agreement on how we leave the EU, benefitting both the UK and the EU as far as we possibly can. And I do think it’s possible. But I am increasingly concerned that due to internal wrangling, leadership ambitions and wilful misrepresentation of the realities of parliamentary arithmetic, the whole Brexit project is threatened. The pursuit by some MPs of what is loosely described as a ‘Hard Brexit’ is making an achievable, acceptable Brexit near unachievable.
Voters in the EU referendum opted for Leave for a range of reasons and with different levels of enthusiasm. Some saw it as a ‘great release’ from external control, a massive financial saving, the freedom to control immigration, or the ability to trade with the world. Other Leave voters were unsure, hoping and believing that, on balance, they were doing the right thing. I was one of those. Every one of the 17.4 million had their own personal reasons to vote Leave.
At the same time we have the 48%, some of whom are committed to overturning the result of the referendum because they see it as damaging the economy and impacting negatively on jobs. But there are many others who accept that we are leaving. So there are pressures from both wings of the Brexit debate. Both sides battle to be heard on the airwaves and to be read in our newspapers. And through the cacophony, Theresa May continues to negotiate a deal with the European Union. She has a majority of just 11, assuming the DUP all stay onside. Changing the Brexit secretary, the foreign secretary or even the Prime Minister does not change that simple fact. The majority will still be 11.
The challenges would be still there, perhaps even more difficult as new personalities will have to renegotiate a position internally as a party, externally with the country, and in Brussels with the European Commission - and will have less than six weeks to do it
Some argue for “no deal” - a ‘false god’ in my opinion. Yes we must prepare for ‘no deal” but I judge this outcome would be a massive failure by both the EU and UK negotiating teams. And would Parliament vote for ‘no deal’ anyway. Is it really likely that Parliament (exercising its sovereignty in a very Brexit-like manner) will permit that? Where do we go then? How about a general election? Turkeys and Christmas come to mind. We might as well have a second referendum as that is what it would become. The Conservatives would be punished for failure and Labour probably elected. What price Brexit then dear hard Brexiteers?
The EU negotiators are watching these shenanigans. Quite a bit of head shaking going on. We cannot simply issue orders to the commission and expect them to be obeyed any more than we can to our own party. We need to ‘get real’. I believe we should do what we promised, leaving the EU next March. We should do what we have to do to get this project “over the line”. It certainly won’t be all I wanted. There will be years more ‘negotiation’ during a ‘transition period’. That’s what every business has to do every day of its existence. It’s what our relationship with the EU has been for more than 40 years, including fundamental changes such as expansion, Maastricht, the Euro and the Lisbon Treaty.
I am not given to joining ‘groups’ at Westminster, but I have joined the Brexit Delivery Group (BDG) established by Simon Hart MP, with whom I share an office. This post is based on an article he wrote for the Times. The BRG includes MPs who voted Leave and who voted Remain. Numbers are already at nearly 60. That’s roughly 30 per cent of Conservative MPs and growing. There are no red lines other than a determination not to trigger another referendum or bring about a general election. There is no view on leadership contenders but a resolute belief in seeking a negotiated settlement and to provide the government with the space to achieve that.
We need an agreement that stands the best chance of getting through parliament. We cannot have the perfect deal for anyone. There are too many ideas of what a ‘perfect deal’ is. In politics “perfection” rarely exists. The lyrics of ‘The Perfect Deal’ is that of a siren calling us on to the rocks.