Simon Allison is founding member of Right to Vote, author of Brexit – a Betrayal of Conservatism? and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Right to Vote, a new grouping of Conservative MPs and grassroots activists who are calling for the voters to be given a Final Say over the Brexit process, was launched this week. We’ve called it Right to Vote because we think that voting on the final outcome of the EU talks is the right thing for people to do and indeed, something that they should – and must – have a right to do.
There’s no question that people are bored to tears with hearing about Brexit, and sick and tired of politicians on all sides telling them half-truths about it – and in some cases, blatant untruths. To make matters worse, the people paid to solve the country’s problems, our MPs, have managed to get themselves into a state of total gridlock, in many cases just scoring political points while time ticks away on saving our future.
What people actually want is for our MPs to set out a clear way forward for the country. That means telling them the truth, however unpalatable and difficult that may be. In fact, if you look at the times when the Conservative Party has defied the odds to win elections, in 1979, 1992 and 2015, our success has been based on levelling with the people of the United Kingdom.
So: let’s face facts. The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal is dead. She is calling on MPs to unite around a new solution, but there’s no Commons majority for any form of Brexit – not for the Prime Minister’s deal, not for ‘no deal’ and not for a Norway-style arrangement. While many moderate Conservative MPs like the idea of a compromise based around some form of Customs Union or EEA/EFTA solution, they miss the fact that the reasons why the public didn’t swing behind Mrs May’s deal are the same reasons that they wouldn’t back that kind of compromise.
It would still leave us as a rule-taker not a rule-maker, leaves us paying £39 billion without any guarantees about the final deal and we’d have to go on bended knee to persuade such global powerhouses as Norway and Liechtenstein to let us in. The whole thing would frankly be a humiliation for a world power like the UK. From a Party perspective, it opens up the prospect of internal war without end around the contents of a final trade deal, almost certainly dominating this Parliament and most probably ensuring a crushing defeat – even to Jeremy Corbyn – in 2022.
Instead, giving people a Final Say is a swift, fair and democratic solution to this sorry saga, allowing us to get back to meeting the challenges that in part fuelled the Brexit vote in the first place.
If you believe some on the Party’s far right, this makes us traitors and saboteurs, unrepresentative of true conservatism; many of the Conservative MPs supporting a Final Say are receiving threats of deselection by their constituency associations. But we must not confuse the anguish of hardened activists with the underlying views of the voters. Indeed, across all the seats that elected Conservative MPs at the last election, new research suggests that an average of 55.8 per cent of voters support a new public vote.
Indeed, if the Conservative Party is going to return to its election-winning positioning as the party of common sense, there are two key facts which it must recognise. First, that the Brexit side of this discussion, after nearly three years, can’t decide what Brexit means, making it somewhat difficult to implement and, second, that as of today Remain leads Leave by 12 per cent in the polls.
Against that background, to deny the electorate a say and, instead, delivering a Brexit that does not command their support would be a betrayal of the United Kingdom and a suicide mission for the Conservative Party. The right path for our country also happens to be right path for our Party. We, as Conservatives, ought to lead the way in trusting the people with this – not to be forced in to doing so because there is nowhere else to turn.
The Right to Vote campaign has one clear aim: to secure a Final Say vote. This is about breaking the deadlock in Parliament. This is about securing consent for the next chapter in our great country. It is time to trust the people and let them really take back control.