George Court campaigned for the Tories in 2010 and 2015, formerly worked for a Conservative MEP in Brussels, and supports the For Our Future’s Sake campaign.
“What I would point out to those who say that somehow I am being disloyal to my party by not voting in favour of this bill, I am merely propounding the official policy of the Conservative Party for 50 years until 23rd June 2016”.
Ken Clarke was the only Conservative MP to argue against triggering Article 50, but on that day, he spoke for many in our country, especially for Conservative remainers like myself.
Before we get to the Chequers Summit on Friday, let us go back to the night of May 7th, 2015. At the time I was working in the European Parliament for a Conservative MEP. But I spent election day campaigning in several marginal seats in the East of England including Norwich North, Ipswich and Colchester (two Conservative holds and one Conservative gain).
At around 10pm I got a text from my mother, informing me of the exit poll. I couldn’t believe it – 316 seats for the Conservatives? I had to text her back to confirm there hadn’t been a mistake. When I got home I watched with stunned delight as the Conservative Party – to quote Jeremy Vine – “paved the way to Number 10”. I was absolutely thrilled that we had won our first majority government since 1992.
I believe we won because David Cameron was seen as a strong, stable and moderate leader. Because the Conservative Party puts our economy first, backs businesses, supports the great union of the United Kingdom, and takes tough decisions in the national interest. I also believe that it was right and correct to offer the people an opportunity to have a “genuine choice” on the question of membership of the European Union.
Now, when the Leave campaign narrowly won in 2016 I was shocked and saddened by the decision but still a conservative supporter. Like many Conservatives, I believed we should bring the country back together again after a difficult referendum, and deliver a Brexit for the majority.
But in the days, weeks and months following the referendum, I was horrified. Not just by cabinet members disavowing promises made to the British people, or the infighting, but mainly by my party opting for the hardest possible Brexit – putting controlling immigration ahead of economic prosperity.
It was against this background that Theresa May called the 2017 election. As she ramped up the hard Brexit/no-deal rhetoric, cheered on by the hard brexiteers, I knew I just couldn’t vote Conservative. I understood the theory, give May a big majority to see off the hardliners. But that is not what she said she would do.
I viewed it as a Brexit election so I felt I had no option but to vote Liberal Democrat (very reluctantly). I just couldn’t bring myself to endorse either of the Conservative or Labour parties’ hard-Brexit approach.
I’m sure many might stop reading at this point. I’m no longer a Conservative voter, staffer or campaigner – so why should you listen to me? Well the fact is that I’m emblematic of many young conservative supporters who aren’t sure who our party is anymore. Just as David Cameron under-estimated Leave voters, I believe May underestimates Remainers.
You know the rest. The Government lost her majority, with a clear swing to Labour and other parties voting tactically. In particular Plymouth, Canterbury, and Kensington – areas with high proportions of young people and remain voters.
The Conservative Party represented at Chequers will be the very coalition of chaos that David Cameron was right to warn Labour would be. Even if the Cabinet agrees a position, any Brexit deal will still have difficulty uniting the party with one of the many factions vetoing it. Its easy to imagine a situation where Anna Soubry says the deal ensures the UK will “lose control”, and Jacob Rees-Mogg says it doesn’t “take back control.”
If the Conservatives can’t agree, then the government could collapse.
Even if a deal gets through the Commons – or we crash out with ‘no deal,’ if the Government and Conservative MPs vote for it anyway, knowing the economic damage it will cause and if that then comes to pass, it will be the Conservatives who will get the blame and out of the chaos are the perfect conditions for a Jeremy Corbyn premiership. Compared to a chaotic Tory Brexit, Corbyn’s “radical socialism” might even seem strong and stable.
But if the Conservatives back a ‘People’s Vote’, not only would the party stay in power but the decision would be back with the British people. If it’s a good deal then the British people will vote for it. Even if it’s a bad deal or no deal and people vote for it at least the Government would have laid the facts before the people and let them decide.
The consequences of not doing so would be catastrophic not just for our nation but for the electoral prospects of the party that I hope one day to be able to vote for again.