Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
“You Remainers need to compromise” said my mother, a committed Leave voter to me last year. “I have” I replied “My compromise is that I’ve accepted that we’re leaving the EU.” And, so far, I have.
The Government has, rightly in my view, taken the decision that we need to negotiate an enduring relationship with the EU in the same way that we have relationships with all sorts of countries and trading blocs around the world. But, as I must have said 50 times last week, every negotiation involves a compromise. Ceasing to be an EU member required the negotiation of a withdrawal agreement – and the draft agreement we finally saw last week is the result of many months of tortuous negotiations. These are not 585 pages dashed off in a hurry.
For many of us who voted and campaigned to Remain in the EU, the draft agreement is a crystallisation of the reality of leaving the EU, and our acceptance of that fact. It’s a tangible document which MPs need to decide whether to approve or not.
But if the arch-Brexiteers bring down the agreement (let alone, in an act of pure self-indulgence, bring down the Prime Minister) then they are likely to find that this acceptance of the result and the compromises needed for many of us to get there is over. That is what the Prime Minister meant when she said that ‘No Brexit’ is a very real danger if the draft agreement is rejected by Parliament.
Already there are many Remain campaigners who do not accept the result. We saw 700,000 of them on the streets of London last month. I don’t believe there is yet a majority for that view in the Commons, but there could be – and there are plenty of MPs who want to test out parliamentary opinion on a second vote. I believe the majority in the Commons is actually, as Ken Clarke said this week, for continued membership of the Single Market and a customs union with the EU. If the arch Brexiteers don’t want to find out how many MPs support that position, then the agreement on the table is the best way for them to secure Brexit and this should be allowed to see this through.
The result of the referendum is already under severe strain thanks to the investigations into the conduct of the Vote Leave campaign and Arron Banks. One of the main arguments made to me is that result should not stand because of those factors and the mistruths told on the side of a bus and via social media. So far, I’m clear that, as a democrat, I think that the result stands because many people voted Leave without any regard to those messages. I can think of many people I know who would have voted Leave at any point in the last few decades if given half the chance.
But if the arch-Brexiteers keep ruling out the Withdrawal Agreement (often before they’d even read it), or open up a leadership contest for the position of leader of our Party at a time when the country most needs continuity of leadership, then I think they will find they get the exact opposite.
Over the last few days, my conversations with Party members and constituents have provided overwhelming support for the Prime Minister should be supported, and no deal is ever going to be perfect. This one should be voted on by the Commons.
For the sake of our collective sanity, I am willing to keep making the arguments that the 2016 result stands, that we don’t want to re-run the last 29 months in a new referendum, that we need to move on from this unedifying period both in our Party and in UK politics and that this deal on the table, however imperfect, is infinitely more preferable than a no deal situation.
But if we don’t want to bring the Government down, and see a hard left government in place instead, then those on the other side of the Brexit argument need to accept the need for compromise too. We’ve had over 20 years now of extreme Eurosceptics undermining Conservative Party leaders. The last three Tory Prime Ministers have been brought down over Europe. The definition of insanity is said to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Let’s try not to repeat every mistake of the past at this moment of national importance.