Helen Harrison is an East Northamptonshire councillor, Chairman of Corby & East Northants Conservatives, Chief Executive of Grassroots Out, and was Parliamentary candidate for Bolsover in the 2017 general election.
The point that has struck me most about Theresa May’s Florence Speech is the almost complete silence from Conservatives in response.
The speech, whilst sticking to the fundamentals of leaving the EU by the end of March 2019, kicks the can down the road, makes Brexit vulnerable to a change in government, commits us to pay more money, doesn’t quite demand an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice…and yet, no real backlash! There is virtually no commentary from Association Chairmen, very little from MPs and nothing of substance from Ministers.
It is a matter of fact that we have a predominantly Remain Government giving the impression of carrying out Brexit through gritted teeth, and a Parliamentary Party the majority of which campaigned to remain in the EU. True Brexiteers are pinning their hopes on the idea that the only way the Prime Minister’s tenure will be seen as a success is by delivering a clean, successful Brexit. But the Remainers are well organised and have the ear of the Government. So everyone gives the speech a cautious thumbs-up – and says as little as possible.
The Party is scared of its own shadow. Scared that if we speak out and rock the boat, we may bring down our fragile Government, cause a general election and lose. But here’s the irony: if we bite our tongues and say nothing, and if Brexit is lost, we lose the next election anyway.
I was struck by how deep that fear is rooted last week when, as a constituency Chairman, I was called by the Daily Telegraph for a comment on Boris Johnson’s Brexit article. Of 24 Chairmen interviewed, two-thirds were unsupportive and said he was being unhelpful and should keep quiet. I was one of those who supported Johnson. Leaving the EU is the biggest and most obvious area of foreign policy: surely it is right for our Foreign Secretary to make the positive case for it?
Being a campaigner, I spend a huge amount of time knocking on doors and talking to people. Here are a couple of examples of what they have said to me in the last week: “Given that we have consistently paid more into the EU than we have ever got back, how can we possibly owe them any money?” and “the money that we contribute to the EU is just international aid with a different name and distributed exclusively on mainland Europe!” Contrast that with what someone who works in the City said to me: “£20 billion is just a rounding error.”
This demonstrates the gap between most of us, and some of us! Most of us think that £20 billion pounds is a vast and community-changing sum of money.
Many people have written articles and made speeches explaining why we voted to leave the EU. For what it’s worth, I am convinced that the bulk of the UK electorate voted to be able to elect a Government that puts the needs of the people of the UK first. For them, £20 billion is no rounding error: it’s hospitals, teachers, and good social care. It’s money that ought to be spent on the people of the United Kingdom.
Some of our MPs and Ministers are letting us down. It’s time for those who still don’t want us to leave the EU to stand aside, and let those who do believe in Brexit take their place. It’s time for those who disagree with our negotiating position to take a stand against it. It’s time for our elected representatives to stop worrying about their positions, careers, and snap elections, and to stand up for the democratic instruction they have been given.
Why go into politics if you won’t stand up for what you believe in? I urge all of you who believe in democracy and the electorate to stop running scared. Put your heads above the parapet: it’s time to speak out against this feeble, uninspired, never-ending Brexit before it is too late.
If we can’t, or won’t, do what the electorate have asked of us then, I’m afraid, we don’t deserve to win elections. And, we won’t!