Andrew Lewer is Member of Parliament for Northampton South, and previously served as MEP for the East Midlands and leader of Derbyshire County Council.
I am unique in serving at various times as an MP, MEP, and council leader. Since 2011, I have been Deputy Chairman and then Vice-President of the Local Government Association.
So, I have a track record as a campaigner, and I do feel equipped to express an opinion with regard to the Conservative Party’s electoral prospects.
I am extremely concerned about this year’s local elections. Conservative councillors work extremely hard to deliver crucial public services and amenities at efficient cost to the local tax payer. It would be very sad indeed to see hard and dedicated work at local level undermined by the Government’s Brexit negotiations.
If a proper Brexit is not delivered on time (i.e. March 29) I fear a bewildered and angry reaction from the public. They have been promised on many occasions that Brexit will be delivered on time and that the UK will take back control over borders, laws, and money. This honours the record public vote to leave the EU in the 2016 Referendum.
We should therefore leave the EU on March 29. To not do so will leave many feeling we have betrayed the referendum, our manifesto commitment, and our bond with the British people. Any delay runs a severe risk of us staying in the EU. That was not how the people voted.
I implore the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and my colleagues at Westminster to ensure we honour our commitments and leave the EU in an orderly fashion and on time. This is about trust.
This is not a call to support Theresa May’s Deal unchanged, however. I voted against that deal on January 15 and will do so again unless the Backstop – the most humiliating proposed handover of sovereignty in modern British history – is altered. Even without the Backstop, her deal is a poor one and the question is whether to swallow it, not welcome or celebrate it.
To many the Backstop seems technical. It is not. However, to non-politicos what is key will be leaving on March 29. Blame if we do not should attach only to those who seek to deny democracy by voting against leaving simply to kick the can down the road – yet again – or (and there are a lot more Conservative MPs in this camp than might be supposed) to seek to thwart Brexit altogether.
The fear, of course, is that blame will not be so fairly apportioned and that the blameless – our local government colleagues – will instead pay the price
We all stand under the same Conservative banner. What happens at national level has implications for all of us. Local councillors have delivered on their promises, and stayed true to their Conservative beliefs. If our Conservative Government and MPs do not deliver an independent, self-governing UK on March 29 2019 then they will have broken their promises and potentially split our party. It will have implications for all of us.
I urge all council leaders, group leaders, councillors, and candidates to do everything within their power to convey the concerns of grassroots Conservatives to the Party Chairman, the Prime Minister, and Government.
Some Associations will have received ‘guidance’ from CCHQ on whether a motion passed at the National Convention can be properly replicated at Association AGMs. The answer of course is yes, as we seek at grassroots level to support the Prime Minister and Cabinet in delivering our General Election manifesto pledges.
Parliament has shown that it rejects the Government’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement, but it also shows a clear majority for a new approach that respects the Union, takes back control for the UK, and honours the result of the referendum.
Let us hope that Geoffrey Cox can seize the opportunity to negotiate a better deal which will unite our Party, our MPs, and the country. But let us also be clear that it will take the endorsement of the lawyer MPs the ERG has asked to look at this, including Nigel Dodds of the DUP, to ensure anything Cox has achieved has credibility.
It is no exaggeration at all to say the future of our party is at stake. If we extend Article 50 and delay Brexit further then we are likely to see our local government candidates massively punished in the May local elections. None of us want that.
So please stand up and make the views of the Conservative grassroots crystal clear to CCHQ and those Conservative MPs at severe risk of not being in tune with our Members and voters. Enough is enough. Now is the time to deliver the Brexit the British people voted for.