Jordan Byrne is Chair of Young Conservatives for a People’s Vote. He is also a Political Economy student at King’s College London.
No, this is not a message to deliver a no-deal Brexit. Placing a no-deal Brexit front and centre of Conservative party policy is not a winnable election strategy.
One thing that the EU elections have proved beyond any reasonable doubt is that there is no majority, and therefore no mandate, for no-deal. The most charitable interpretation for advocates of a WTO Brexit is that 35 per cent of the vote went to parties explicitly advocating leaving the EU without a deal, and that the single biggest party was Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, despite having only existed for six weeks.
But this explanation requires some context, especially for Conservative strategists looking to stop the bleeding. It is not outrageous to assume those that vociferously back a no-deal were most likely to show up in support of the Brexit Party. If run with the more moderate, wider public in a referendum, where turnout is 70 per cent instead of 40 per cent, you begin to be able to predict a shrinking share of the population that are no-dealers.
In interpreting these results, conventional wisdom states that the Brexit Party’s rise has destroyed our supporter base, and left us in tatters at nine per cent of the vote. The argument then runs that we lost these supporters because they are disillusioned with our party, and are therefore sending the strongest possible message to not only back no-deal, but to ensure it.
This could not be more inaccurate; the evidence we are seeing shows an abandonment of the party by Remainers, not Leavers.
The Brexit party gained 30 per cent of the vote, compared to UKIP’s 27 per cent five years ago. Including the three per cent of UKIP remaining, we can fairly safely assume that roughly 24 per cent of BXP’s vote was a direct transfer from UKIP, meaning that six per cent came from elsewhere.
In the 2014 EU elections, the Conservative Party recorded 24 per cent of the vote, 15 per cent higher than now. If we assume that the remaining six per cent came entirely from the Tories (which is unrealistic given that Labour Leavers would have likely transferred to Nigel Farage’s new vehicle for Brexiteers) this leaves nine per cent of our lost vote unaccounted for; of which a large majority would have gone to remain parties.
In this, it’s important to remember that whilst yes, the Conservative Party has undergone a Eurosceptic transformation in its supporters and members, these elections are compared to those of 2014. Whilst data is not readily available from the 2014 EU election, in the 2015 general election, the closest alternative, 40 per cent of Conservative voters, around 4.4m people, voted for remain.
In the last few years we have defined ourselves by Brexit, and have attempted to appeal to an increasingly one issue, pro-Brexit base that have, understandably, no loyalty to the party and will desert us at the offering of a ‘purer’ Brexit, given that their support was conditional on the party’s ability to deliver their version of Brexit.
This has to stop; making no-deal official party policy would be the latest attempt by the Conservatives to out-Brexit the Brexit party. The further we move to the right to neutralise the threat, the further they will move to outflank us. They will always win.
This strategy has led to the wholesale alienation of millions of pro-European Tories; we have been systematically killing off our once-stable voter base. Seeing Elmbridge and Guildford Council, as well as Winchester, St Albans, Bath, and North East Somerset – all traditionally very safe Conservative areas – go overwhelmingly to the Liberal Democrats and other remain parties, should set off serious alarm bells throughout the party.
Broad church coalitions win in the first past the post system. Without these areas, and without the four and a half million Conservative Remainers, the fateful 2017 campaign will become a recurring nightmare.
Moreover, if we pursue a no deal without the express consent of the public, we will be playing with fire. No-deal has the potential to have serious disruptive effects on the economy and the lives of the public, at the very least in the short run.
Unless we, as a party, can guarantee the country against serious harm from medicine shortages, the chaos of residence applications for EU citizens, and turning Kent from the garden of England to the car park of England, imposing a no-deal will be downright reckless, and the Conservatives will be seen as such. The immediate chaos would be the most effective way of ensuring Prime Minister Corbyn.
Time is running out. The Conservative Party must again find its roots. The best way to reach across the divide and attempt to gain the trust of ex-Conservative Remainers, is to accept the inevitable. A public vote is highly undesirable for most Conservative MPs but at this point, there are really only three options remaining: no-deal, a general election, or a confirmatory vote.
Given the disastrous local and EU election results, nobody in the Conservative party wants an election and the dangers of a wipe out that it could bring. They must provide the ultimate olive branch to old supporters, and back a public vote. Quite frankly, we cannot afford not to.