Nigel Evans is MP for Ribble Valley and is a member of the Executive of the 1922 Committee.
As an ardent Brexiteer, I campaigned ceaselessly in the 2016 referendum to persuade as many people as possible that leaving the EU was in all our interests. It was a hard-fought battle with families and work colleagues divided and friendships destroyed. Claims were made on both sides of the campaign over a period of many months, and the electorate had to discern what they thought was the most credible argument – and they voted.
I remember the excitement when it became apparent that the UK had told its elites that they were not buying into the incredible string of scare stories which filled news agendas on a relentless basis. Project Fear backfired big time and the people decided to leave. This was a great victory. Sadly, it turned out to be the last one that the Leave campaign achieved.
David Cameron made way for a new Prime Minister, and I initially backed Boris Johnson as a committed Brexiteer – and quite frankly as a winner on the doorsteps. His charisma certainly helped persuade the public that Leave was the right vote, and he was helped by a number of other brave politicians who took to the stump.
After he left the campaign I spoke with Theresa May on the phone. She promised me that Brexiteers would be put in charge of the process at every stage. And she also promised me that we would not have one foot in the EU and one foot out: we would be leaving in its entirety. Her clear and bold message helped me to feel that Brexit was safe in her hands.
In the end, my support didn’t matter as Andrea Leadsom voluntarily left the race, and Theresa was crowned Premier without any endorsement from the membership. That must never happen again.
Later, the Prime Minister was emboldened by a 24 per cent poll lead, and called a snap election. It was a disaster from the publication of the manifesto onwards. Theresa must carry the blame for a document so toxic that we might as well have put a photo of the grim reaper on the front cover. As a result, 33 of my Conservative colleagues paid with their jobs as the public threw them out. Bad advice was taken by the Prime Minister, who refused to address the problem until very late in the day, despite being told by many colleagues that it was costing us dear.
It was clear that, confronted with the facts, Theresa was sticking to her original decision – with a very slight tweak to the policy but the message was “nothing has changed”. At that election, however, both Labour and the Conservatives said they would respect the result and 80 per cent of the public voted for one of those two parties.
The fiasco of the election though resulted in a hung Parliament, with the Prime Minister then relying on the DUP for our majority. This consideration clearly went out of the window, though, when she junked her original clear Brexit position for the backstop-laden Chequers deal.
Until that time, Theresa had just a handful of Conservatives rebelling against her, but that turned into over 100 opposing “her” deal first time round. Her mantra that no deal was better than a bad deal was effectivelt replaced by my deal or no Brexit. The disaster and grand canyon of a hole we are standing in has been haplessly created by a Prime Minister who has lacked leadership or vision.
Her approach has resulted in countless loyal Ministers resigning, thousands of Party members ripping up their membership cards, over 1,300 councillors losing their seats – with new life breathed into both Nigel Farage and the Liberal Democrats – the creation of two new political parties, the fighting of elections to the European Parliament, money drying up from supporters, the most dismal polling in my 44 years as a member of the Party, her deal being rejected three times, a small number of her own MPs colluding with opposition MPs to take control of the Order Paper, Theresa having 117 of her own colleagues vote against her in a vote of no confidence, over 70 senior Party members from around the country asking for an unprecedented emergency meeting of the National Convention to conduct their own vote of no confidence in her, the Prime Minister in direct discussions with the Labour Party to come to a compromise softer Brexit/Brino, (Brexit in name only)…and the date of Brexit being delayed from March 29th, to April 12th, to June 30th…to October 31st.
You could not make this up.
In the meantime we have had a load of indicative votes in Parliament which have all failed from second referendums through to revocation of article 50.
The current talks with Labour are going no where and nor should they. Indeed, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party has now declared that Labour is the “Party of remain and reform”. So why are we talking to them? They have changed their position to one of delivering Brexit to one in effect of being in a Customs Union and Single Market. That is simply not Brexit.
The Prime Minister cannot sign up to this – so therefore what is this all about? These talks also prevent us from exposing the betrayal of the position that Labour took during the election. Theresa is in a hole, and the Labour Party are throwing her spades to dig deeper.
If can-kicking were an Olympic sport Theresa May would have the gold medal proudly around her neck. The Cabinet yesterday had the opportunity today to say enough, but they have decided that this farce should carry on. The Prime Minister now seems set at having a fourth go at passing her deal in the Commons. Why not instead try listening to the 17.4 million people, Prime Minister?
Why not try listening to democrats in the country who, in a rather sophisticated way, at the local elections told both major parties that we were a shambles. We were mauled – though the Labour Party none the less actually lost seats overall, which is not impressive for a party that should be the main beneficiary of the Government’s unpopularity. Meanwhile, the country is being treated to a BBC expose on Guy Verhofstadt and his appalling antics, whilst Olly Robbins heads back to his favourite country to carry on his disastrous negotiations with EU bureaucrats.
My message to Theresa May is straightforward: the existential threat to my Party is so real that every day of continued dithering and delay means that the bad place we are in becomes worse, and her successor will be handed a mission impossible of a job.
Recharge, and reflect on where we are. Show leadership. Remember when you were campaigning for the leadership of our Party. No Customs Union, no Single Market, no billions into the EU, no justiciability by the EU Courts, free Trade deals around the world and the control of our borders. That was what people voted for and that was what you said you would deliver.
Call off the talks with Labour who have betrayed their election promise. Get on the offensive against their betrayal.
Talk with the DUP on what is acceptable as far as a reformed deal based on what people voted for, with no backstop – and test the will of Parliament on that basis. If the EU don’t like it, at least its Brexit and not Brino – and we can look the voters straight in the eye. If the Prime Minister isn’t prepared to deliver Brexit, then clearly others are waiting to do so.
The leadership election to succeed her is in full throttle, despite Theresa not having declared when she is going. This is beyond a farce. The time is now for the Prime Minister to announce the date of her departure – with or without progress being made. Some in the Cabinet want her to deliver some form of Brino so that they can promise to undo it later. This is not the leadership that backbenchers are looking for, and it will stain all would be contenders in the current cabinet with leadership ambitions.
The policy of those who want to thwart Brexit has been one of delay, dilute and ditch. They have succeeded in the first, they are in talks with the Labour Party about the second, and the confirmatory referendum is the Remainers’ final card in order to ditch Brexit completely. Game, set and match to Remain. Democracy is on a drip feed and we have put it there.
MPs have played games whilst the public have looked on in dismay. The Westminster bubble in which most MPs operate is about to burst and the fallout will be huge and unprecedented in modern times. I for one will not sit and watch this happen to my Party. I am not prepared to delay, dilute or ditch the people’s will. It’s a matter of trust.