Dinah Glover is Chairman of London East Area Conservatives and of Bethnal Green and Bow Conservative Association.
Two weeks ago, a motion that I presented to the Party’s National Convention meeting passed with overwhelming support and since then, thanks to ConservativeHome’s encouragement, Associations around the country have been tabling the motion at their AGMs. It said that we must honour the EU referendum result – otherwise democracy will be damaged for a generation. But what does that mean? It means that we have to become a sovereign nation again: not a nation in a semi-detached relationship with the EU, joined to it, but with no control over whatever emanates from its institutions.
The EU has, by using the Irish border as a negotiating, political and emotional tool, caught us in what has become known as the backstop. If we enter it, there will currently be no guaranteed exit without the acquiescence of the EU – and, after all, why would it easily let us out of the backstop since it would put us where they want us, namely in that semi-detached condition.
We would still be adhering to EU rules but now with no say, unable to do meaningful trade deals with the rest of the world – and thus losing one of the most obvious advantages of leaving the EU. Not only would this settlement be a lesson to the other countries who might want to leave the EU in the future, but it might well leave asking to rejoin the EU, down the line, on terms surely less advantageous terms than those we currently have.
This is why it is crucial that our negotiating team agree either a legally binding termination point to the backstop or the right to a unilateral exit. Without one of these, the Commons surely cannot pass the Withdrawal Agreement without huge risk for our country. For once it is enshrined in legislation, it will become an international treaty – and there will be no going back.
MPs in our Party who support taking No Deal off the table are helping to ensure that the EU will not agree to our requests regarding the backstop. I’m afraid that the three ‘kamikaze” Cabinet Ministers – Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark, all of whom have demanded a Commons vote to rule out No Dea,l are partly responsible for the lack of progress we read Geoffrey Cox has made in Brussels.
For the British people to believe that we are delivering Brexit, they have to see that we are en route to making a clean break with the EU. This will not mean only that we will no longer elect MEPs. It will also mean that our future relationship will be based on a trade deal. That might lead to regulation in some areas aligning, but the arrangement will be a mutually symbiotic trading relationship, not Britain being part of a political project, either as a fully paid up member, as we are now, or as a semi-detached member – paying but not voting, which we may well be on track to becoming.
As the motion that was passed by the National Convention says, Conservative MPs need to honour their manifesto pledges, both of 2015 (namely, that the referendum result be implemented) and of 2017 (namely, that we will leave both the Customs Union and the Single Market.
If the legally binding exit route from the backstop cannot be achieved, then MPs should support leaving on March 29th without the Withdrawal Agreement. We need to be clear: a delay will not deliver a change of mind in the EU. At best, it would delay Brexit; at worst, an it would provide opportunities to thwart it.