Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector.
I have written before about my early-life journey from picturesque Beverley – one of the North’s best-kept secrets (and where 59 per cent of voters opted to leave the European Union) – to East Anglia (some 69 per cent voted the same way) where, aged 18 I moved to study politics, including European culture and identity. It is a period of my story which made me develop an understanding for my fellow countrymen’s Euroscepticism.
Yet, sometime during the ensuing decade, I developed a healthy respect for the EU. I attribute this to working in the City and city breaks in European capitals. And so, in 2016, I joined the 79 per cent of South Londoners in Lambeth by voting to Remain in the EU. I understand, therefore, why some people, including fellow Tory Reform Group members, questioned my early support and subsequent enthusiasm for Boris Johnson – for he, perhaps more than anyone else involved, advocated for Vote Leave.
Let me set out why I believe our end destination, under Johnson’s leadership, is more important than the journeys we are on – and how I eventually arrived there.
Our relationship with the EU is quite complex. I believed, rightly so, that it is a relationship of such complexity that it cannot be boiled down into one question in a ballot. I also believed – and feared – that a vote on this issue had the potential to split the Conservative Party and the country. Like George Osborne, this was one of those rare occasions when I disagreed with David Cameron because I couldn’t support the call for a referendum on the EU. However, when, in 2015, the Tories unexpectedly achieved a majority, and with no coalition partners to block one, a referendum became inevitable and the campaigns to Leave and Remain began in earnest.
At that point, I decided to campaign for Conservatives IN. However, the campaign to Remain lost and the campaign to Leave won. The EU referendum question, while simplistic, was clear. We have since discovered that though leave means quite different things to different people, the decision to leave was made. As such, the discussion moved to how we would build national consensus to deliver on the result of the referendum and help move our country forward.
Except, that didn’t happen. Theresa May made virtually no effort to engage the 48 per cent. This time, as a means of finding consensus, I subscribed to The New European and found myself agreeing with Conservatives for a People’s Vote (albeit I prefer the slightly more accurate term ‘confirmatory ballot’). However, Parliament has voted against one and polling indicates that the people do not want one.
One constant throughout these past four years has been the failure of the Remain and remoan camp to run an effective operation and win enough support.
There comes a time when we need to accept where we are and recognise the need to move forward and give businesses the certainty they are asking for. Brexit is an important issue, but it should not be an all-consuming and indefinite issue at the expense of other priorities which shape people’s lives.
Driven by this pragmatism, it didn’t take much to throw my support behind Johnson – a two-term mayoral winner in Labour London – as the man to take responsibility, own this and make a go of it in the national interest. It is a pragmatism which TRG and other membership organisations should applaud, not criticise. We need to leverage Johnson’s qualities to win for the nation and shape a better future for all – Leavers and Remainers alike. After we have reached destination Brexit, we need Johnson’s Conservatives to take on Jeremy Corbyn, Sadiq Khan, and the remaining loony left. Our society should be about freedom, individual responsibility and community. It’s time to move on and move forward.