Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
There is a good reason why the Conservative Party is the longest-standing and most successful political party in the world – and that is because it is based on pragmatism and a set of core values, not an ideology. Conservatives seek to deal with the world as it is, not the world that we might wish it to be. And to be successful we need to be a broad church.
So I was very sorry to see Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston leave the Conservative Party this week. I understand fully why they made their decision, although I disagree with their conclusion. I believe that their voices would be stronger, and they would be more effective in seeing the values that they believe in prevail, if they stayed in the Conservative Party and argued their case from within.
Anna is a personal friend with whom I served in the Cabinet. As a fellow East Midlands MP I know just how hard she fights for her constituents and her constituency.
I believe that the Conservative Party demonstrated our differences from the current Labour Party in the way we reacted to this news. While Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters attacked the former Labour MPs who left, the door has been left open to the former Conservative MPs to return.
It is true that Brexit, which is based on a particular view of the world, has thrown the most enormous spanner into the workings of the Conservative Party as well as the Labour Party. But Brexit is an event from which the modern Conservative Party can recover, as long as all Party members and activists decide that we want to do so, and that we aren’t going to keep attacking each other or picking over old divisions.
As we approach 29th March, I’d argue that the Conservative Parliamentary Party owes it to voters, who are watching how we are handling Brexit with mounting alarm and anger, to decide, right now, that we aren’t going to let Brexit divide us further.
The majority of MPs, including Conservative ones, want a withdrawal agreement to be in place when exit day happens. We know that because the House of Commons has twice said so – by means of an amendment to the Finance Bill and then the Spelman/Dromey amendment in January.
We also know that the majority of Conservative MPs can unite around a form of Withdrawal Agreement because we said so via the Brady amendment in January. There is one major issue of concern: the backstop. There are alternative arrangements to the current backstop which get us to the same place in terms of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.
In over six hours of meetings, officials tried to make the tyres fall off these alternative arrangements, and couldn’t do so. Indeed, we identified that the current backstop proposals don’t actually work and need to be replaced. So these alternative arrangements as envisaged in the Malthouse Compromise could, as Michel Barnier has apparently acknowledged in recent days, supersede the backstop.
The handling of the vote this week is therefore critical and the mistakes of the Valentine’s Day votes must be avoided. We now know this week won’t see a meaningful vote on the actual agreement. So can the Government provide sufficient assurances this week that a deal can be reached, so that MPs don’t need themselves to take ‘no deal’ off the table? The Government needs to table a motion which captures the changes it is asking for from the EU. This would enable MPs to show that if these changes are secured there will be a majority for the agreement.
To do this would be in the finest Conservative tradition. Not ideological but practical – as I say, dealing with the world (and Brexit) as it is, not as we ideally would wish it to be.