Nicky Morgan is Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and is MP for Loughborough.
A leap of faith by those rightly concerned about a No Deal Brexit is now required to enable the UK to leave the EU on October 31 with a deal in place and the withdrawal legislation approved.
I know how hard this will be. In the hope that it might help those required to make that adjustment, I want to share my experiences of making a similar leap earlier this year.
I was one of the rebels who helped to secure Parliament having a “meaningful vote”. I was consequently labelled as one of the original ‘traitors’ by the media. It wasn’t a very nice place to be, but I was convinced that I was doing the right thing, and that Parliament must be fully involved in something as significant as Brexit.
Everywhere I went in late 2017 and 2018, people would come up to me and say things like ‘I would never vote Conservative, but I think you are so right to be doing what you are doing.’ Eventually someone close to me asked if I didn’t think it was bit odd that I was doing more to satisfy non-Conservatives than those with whom I had worked with and agreed politically with for the last three decades?
Further rebellions continued – some successful, some averted and some defeated. The Government was getting closer to a deal which I thought my side of the Party would broadly support. Surely that was enough? But I realised then that it wouldn’t be for some MPs who now wanted a second referendum to try to secure a different result, and who were spending more time with MPs from other parties than our own.
That is a hard place to be. I believe in cross-party working. In our APPGs and Select Committees, it achieves positive results. But underneath that MPs are really partisan creatures. And as I worked with some Opposition MPs it became clear to me that, for some, it was about influencing the Government towards a softer Brexit but that, for others, it was about weakening the Conservative Party and prolonging the withdrawal process to buy time in the hope the voters would change their mind.
In my experience, if draft motions and amendments can’t be agreed unless they are unsupportive of the Government, then I had to question if I wanted to indulge that.
So by the end of 2018 and start of 2019, it was clear to me that the only people who benefited from a de-stabilised governing Party were our opponents.
Once the first meaningful vote had failed so heavily, it was time to try to find a way through the Brexit impasse. And this could clearly only be done with Conservative MPs working and voting together.
Huge credit to Kit Malthouse who brought Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Baker, Iain Duncan Smith, Robert Buckland, Damian Green and me together. It can be challenging to put heads together with those who may have a different vision for the eventual outcome – but ultimately we all wanted to deliver on the referendum result and get Brexit done.
We did it because we knew we had to make some progress – and I believe that applies even more now. It was at times testing, demanded constant supplies of Kit’s children’s chocolate and the ability to block out the background noise. But it did eventually result in a compromise leading to the Brady amendment which gave hope that the Commons could say what it wanted from Brexit, not just what it didn’t want.
That in turn led to talks with the then Brexit Secretary, which helped all of us to a greater understanding of the motivations of those with a different view. I do now understand why some people believe in Brexit so sincerely, but I also heard their reservations too. And they heard ours. There is no substitute for talking privately.
The Prime Minister has now secured a great new deal with the EU. I believe all (bar a very small number of) MPs elected as Conservatives will support it. The leap of faith now required is trusting that the deal will be kept on the table while the necessary legislation is passed before October 31. Colleagues in the ERG have said publicly that they will not torpedo the legislation and they should be taken at their word. They have always stuck to their commitments in my dealings with them.
I know from my own experiences that putting doubts aside is not easy. But ultimately, we are all on the same side, and working for the same Brexit outcome now. We are all Conservatives, and we all share a broader vision for this great country: to make it the best place in the world to live, grow, start a family or business, and build one’s life.
We now have an opportunity to respect the referendum result and leave the EU with the Prime Minister’s new deal. So I hope we will seize it this week.