The flow of submissions to ConservativeHome critical of the Government’s Brexit policy is greater than that of those supportive. This was perhaps especially so in the aftermath of the Chequers plan – which this site did not support. So by way of balance we asked Downing Street for an article by a Government Minister backing the proposals. There was a pause. And then, towards the end of the month, a piece turned up by George Eustice.
Some articles by Government Ministers turn out to be boilerplate. This was different. The then Agriculture Minister had obviously written the piece himself rather than simply approved it. It set out his background as a former UKIP candidate, his later support for fundamental negotiation as a Conservative, his parting of the ways with David Cameron, for whom he was once press spokesman, over the EU referendum vote.
At the heart of his argument for Chequers was the following: “Parliament has already passed into law the EU Withdrawal Act which will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and end the supremacy of EU law in March next year. In the final analysis, we do not need permission from the EU to leave. The referendum result was a decision to leave, not a negotiation to leave. All that we are really negotiating at the moment are the terms of a future partnership, so the baseline for these negotiations is completely different.”
Now you may or may not agree with his view but, in the light of his resignation today, Eustice’s words take on a new significance. His take hasn’t changed. In his letter to Theresa May, he explains that the reason for his quitting is not her proposed deal, but a possible extension – and the Government’s connivance in it. ” I fear that developments this week will lead to a sequence of events culminating in the EU dictating the terms of any extension requested and the final humiliation of our country,” he writes.
Eustice thus joins David Davis, Boris Johnson, Esther McVey, Dominic Raab, Guto Bebb, Suella Braverman, Sam Gyimah, Jo Johnson, Shailesh Vara, Conor Burns, Robert Courts, Chris Green, Ranil Jaywardena, Scott Mann, Will Quince and Ann-Marie Trevelyan in having resigned from the Government. He thus becomes on our count the 17th person to do so, and is very much at the senior end, being a fully-fledged Minister of State.
All bar three of those who have quit tilt towards a harder rather than a softer Brexit: indeed, the exceptions, Bebb, Gyimah and Johnson all favour a second referendum. Given the propensity of some pro-Remain and Soft Brexit Ministers to act otherwise, and publicly defy the policy of the Government to which they are formally committed, Eustice’s resignation is likely to tilt it in a pro-Soft Brexit and Remain direction. He may not be the last pro-Brexit Minister to walk over the next few days.
For what it’s worth, he was also due to feature in one of this site’s planned but unpublished articles, provisionally titled “The Cabinet of people who know what they’re talking about”. This is a way saying that he knows his Agriculture brief backwards and, were he not a white middle-aged married man, it is not at all impossible to have imagined him stepping up into the Environment Secretary job when Andrea Leadsom was reshuffled out of it.
There is sometimes more or less to a resignation than meets the eye but, when one looks back to Eustice’s article of last August, one can see a deep consistency in his decision to go. His view hasn’t changed. The Government’s approach has. So he has decided to quit – even though, as irony would have it, it is possible to imagine a revised Brexit deal clearing the Commons before mid-March. In which case there will be no extension and he will need not have gone. Of the 16 previous resignations we can’t think of one more honourable.