The question of membership of the European Union has always been a vexed issue for Conservatives. But, as Conservatives, we should heed this opportunity for cohesion and settle this issue once and for all: and the provision for doing so has never been better.
Article 50 has been invoked, our Prime Minister has set out her plans for Brexit, and there is a strong and clear mandate for it. The Chequers proposal doesn’t satisfy everyone – but it is a compromise, so it was never really intended to do so. A compromise is clearly the only way forward: we have thus got to get behind it. The two cabinet resignations, of Boris and David, were, as such, disappointing, as is all criticism of the Prime Minister’s plans for Brexit: it is all very well and easy to critique them, but is any viable alternative possible? I think not.
A new leader? Absolutely not!
And likewise can be said of any leadership challenge–it would achieve nothing whatsoever. This is an issue of policy, not leadership. A hypothetical new leader, whether that be Anna Soubry or Boris Johnson, would face exactly the same problems as our incumbent Prime Minister: there is not a Parliamentary majority for a second referendum, but nor is there one for a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit, thus a compromise is clearly the only possible way forwards. A leadership election would merely waste time without solving any of the issues.
A betrayal? Quite the opposite.
This proposal is clearly in line with the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto (which, I hasten to add, gained a clear mandate at the last election as we secured 42.4% of the vote, the largest share we have ever won since 1983) pledged that “As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union but we will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.” And it is assuredly the case that the Government’s whitepaper on “the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union” perfectly delivers on that.
Moreover, it is worth reminding oneself that this is a negotiating position and not an end-state: on the basis of the albeit somewhat clichéd fact that ‘nothing is agreed till everything is agreed’ as repeatedly agreed by both sides of the negotiating table. This means that unless it is agreed by Brussels (which, being a notoriously sclerotic institution, it almost certainly will not be), whilst it sets out our intentions, this is strictly meaningless. Indeed, the fact that Article 50 has been invoked means that if the EU and/or the House of Commons subsequently does not accept it, a WTO (no-deal) Brexit is in fact made more likely.
And the good news is that, in that situation, those diametrically opposed to a WTO Brexit could not blame our Prime Minister, for that is not in her negotiating position–they would instead be disposed to blame the European Union for its sclerosis. A WTO-Brexit is what almost all Brexiters (including myself) would like – but there would be no majority for it in Parliament, and thus, the Chequers approach is the only way to get it, and means that we can unite our party at the same time.
What does all this mean?
In summary, it is all very well to criticise at the Prime Minister for her negotiating position with Brussels, but there is no alternative. We Conservatives are best placed to accept this, and unite behind the Prime Minister now, or else risk chaos, perhaps even no Brexit at all. Indeed, in setting out this vexed proposal, the Prime Minister should actually deserve credit, for she has evidently shown fortitude in the face of adversity. Ultimately, it can lead to a WTO-Brexit which will unite the whole party once again. In the long-run, we will truly reap the rewards of this, with new trade deals, more growth, reduced global tariffs, and true sovereignty. The path isn’t going to be easy, but we must remain tenacious.