Stewart Jackson was MP for Peterborough from 2005-2017 and was Treasurer of the 1922 Committee 2015-16.
At 4.25pm yesterday, the Brexit Phoney War came to a long- and grimly-anticipated end. Battle commences in earnest today.
Not for the war-weary voters, many of whom not unreasonably imagined three years ago that their decision to vote to leave the European Union, in an historic plebiscite, to rejoin the world as an independent, free and self-governing nation for the first time in 46 years, would be respected and honoured. They have long despaired of our Parliamentarians keeping their word and delivering a speedy Brexit. For this reason, Parliament’s reputation with the electorate is at a record low and many mild mannered people want to see the back of our modern Rump Parliament.
Yesterday, at a speech at Policy Exchange, it took a former foreign leader, Australia’s recent premier Tony Abbott, to articulate and crystallise the case for Brexit and British boosterism and renaissance after 31st October, in a way fresh and inspiring and absent from our own domestic discourse.
Meanwhile, for the political classes in SW1, yesterday was the denouement for which they had been waiting since Theresa May’s defenestration and Boris Johnson’s unlikely ascendance in June. It arrived with the publication of Hilary Benn’s EU (Withdrawal) No 6 Bill.
Seldom has the Commons seen such a deeply cynical and fundamentally dangerous piece of legislation, which might just as well be entitled the Usurpation of Awkward Referenda Bill No 1. It is the last throw of the dice for the Europhile elite in Westminster and Whitehall and the universities, trades unions, multinational boardrooms, charities, newspapers and TV and radio studios of the UK.
It contains an “enslavement clause,” no doubt the product of collusion and subterfuge with Benn’s friends in Brussels, which actually states that the EU can choose the length of an Article 50 extension – without a limit – and that our Prime Minister must be compelled to agree such a draconian demand.
Yes – three years after British voters decided to leave the EU, Conservative MPs and others will vote for an Act of Parliament which hands over that decision to the EU. This is nothing less than a slow-motion cancellation of Brexit. At the very least, it is a shameless ploy to give the EU an open-ended break clause until Remainers can conjure up the courage (if ever) to seek to Revoke Article 50 or to legislate for a second referendum. Meanwhile, the public would be shut out and ignored. Which Conservative MPs could contemplate giving it their support?
Did anyone say #StoptheCoup, maybe? Or “constitutional outrage”?
Make no mistake, at least three Conservative MPs – David Gauke, Philip Hammond and Alistair Burt, all former Ministers – have sponsored a Bill which seeks to de facto nullify the 2016 EU Referendum result, via primary legislation and without another referendum.
They tell us that they want to avoid a “crash out (sic)” Brexit – even though they have voted three times in statute law for legislation which would clearly and conceivably and most likely have this effect, in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
The idea propagated in last night’s Evening Standard by another ex-Cabinet Minister, Greg Clark, is that after 38 months we need to spend another few months “debating” Brexit! The Commons and the Lords have had endless opportunities since June 2017 to not just reject Theresa May’s ‘deal’ but substitute an alternative – and they have spectacularly failed. Indeed, the myth that Parliament has been excluded from the Brexit process is patently a canard.
Gauke, Hammond and their fellow rebel MPs all stood on a manifesto at the last General Election which solemnly promised that they would adhere to what the voters had willed, after a referendum that, inter alia, Peter Mandelson, Michael Heseltine, John Major, George Osborne, Sadiq Khan, Heidi Allen, Dominic Grieve, Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron had all described as a unique, once in a lifetime event.
It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that many of them simply lied to their voters in 2017.
Frankly, these Remain refuseniks have contributed to this disastrous stasis and borderline national humiliation and near capitulation under Theresa May; a situation in which her appalling surrender deal – written in Berlin and passed to the then Prime Minister by Olly Robbins for dissemination to the Cabinet – was actually compared by Yanis Varoufakis to that inflicted on a conquered nation following wartime defeat.
They have undermined and then broken Cabinet collective responsibility and the basic tenets of Cabinet Government, in a way which would have embarrassed Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell; connived to starve Government departments of adequate funding to prepare appropriate contingency measures in the event of No Deal; worked with opposition parties to undermine their fellow Ministers in the Commons; plotted directly and indirectly with our direct EU interlocutors to cripple the UK negotiating stance and subvert our national interests; engaged in direct negotiations outside their remit with Ministers of a foreign government (Ireland) behind the back of the responsible ministerial team; and helped a deeply flawed and biased Speaker traduce and destroy Parliamentary conventions in order to subvert a referendum result in which voters participated in good faith and in the belief that their votes really mattered (for once).
These holdouts have little intellectual case for their actions; their moral or political rationale is threadbare. Whatever one thinks of Grieve or the Liberal Democrats or the SNP, they have always at least been fairly shamelessly insouciant in their contempt for the choice the voters made in 2016.
In all good conscience, the likes of Gauke and Hammond are now indistinguishable from them. They are all preparing to support a Brexit Blocking Bill but they cannot answer the straightforward question:
“What comes next?”
That is because it’s effectively unanswerable. The Withdrawal Agreement has thrice failed to pass the Commons and as a result of their disloyalty and duplicity in seeking to “cut the legs off” the Prime Minister’s negotiating strategy, the European Union has in essence no incentive and will wilfully refuse the chance to relent in its own tough stance. Furthermore, Theresa May’s abuse of the Royal Prerogative in extending Article 50 a full six months, without being mandated so to do by the Commons, was on the strict basis that such an extension would not be for the purpose of further Article 50 negotiations.
They’re obviously playing for time and hope their voters won’t notice their disreputable undemocratic antics. All the time, the corrosive rust of public disgust and opprobrium spreads across our politics and government, and taints all parties and all MPs. It will do so until we quit the EU.
This week, finally we will see if I’m wrong and whether these MPs demonstrate their vaunted principles and really do sacrifice their careers, without, as it happens, even the sure knowledge that their desperate and squalid Bill ever reaches the Statute Book. My guess is it never will.
I certainly don’t want anyone to leave or be thrown out of my party – and certainly not talented and decent people with whom I have been privileged to serve in the past as a Member of Parliament.
We are a broad church indeed and all the better for it but as the Prime Minister has asked:
“Whose side are you on?” Corbyn and the Establishment or the people?
For those who erroneously believe that honouring the biggest democratic vote in British history has turned our party into ‘an English Nationalist Party’, and Boris Johnson, who became Prime Minister with a mandate of two thirds of the party membership on an 87 per cent poll and the support of over half of our MPs, an ersatz Trump, my question is simply: why would you want to stay and carry our colours in such circumstances?