THE TORIES MUST COME TOGETHER
The Mail on Sunday, 20th January 2019
After the overwhelming defeat of Theresa May’s Brexit deal last week, I hosted an impromptu meeting for like-minded Tory MPs at my London house. We were discussing over drinks the Commons’ decisive vote against a proposal that would have been damaging for this country. However, there was no rejoicing at the scale of the Prime Minister’s defeat, no revelling in her humiliation. I would have preferred a smaller margin.
Yes, we were happy that a proposal that would not have delivered Brexit had been comprehensively finished off. Yet Tuesday’s vote, large as it was, only closed off one course of action. It did not solve the key question of how we deliver Brexit and honour the verdict of the 2016 referendum. It did not in one bound provide a satisfactory Brexit deal.
Mrs May reacted to her setback by opening talks with the Opposition parties to discuss possible changes to her proposals. That is a most statesmanlike approach. However, in my unequivocal view the answer to this crisis still remains largely within the Prime Minister’s own party. This is why. As much as reaching out to Europhile Labour MPs may look attractive, only winning over her Tory rebels will get Mrs May over the line. The simple arithmetic is that more than 110 Tory MPs and ten DUP MPs voted against Mrs May’s deal last week. If they change sides, she wins. Therefore, the energy of the negotiations to improve her deal must be with us and not with Labour MPs such as Yvette Cooper who cannot provide her with anything like the additional 115 MPs needed to reverse the result.
Then the question remains: what type of deal would we be willing to accept? What needs to be changed? The biggest obstacles within the Prime Minister’s current deal are the backstop and the £39 billion we currently propose to give to Brussels but for which we get nothing in return. If Mrs May can persuade the EU to show flexibility on these, we could get the deal through the Commons.
Most people in Parliament want a deal. There are very few MPs who have adopted no deal as an article of faith. I have never been among them. Here I must stress that reports I have gone soggy on Brexit are, as they say, exaggerated to the point of untruth. If I had to choose between no deal and Mrs May’s original accord, I would have no hesitation of opting for no-deal Brexit but even Mrs May’s deal would be better than not leaving at all.
Even at this very late stage, I believe that with commitment and effort we can avoid such a choice. I hope that if Mrs May were prepared to compromise on her plans, she could win over her party, get a revised deal through the Commons and secure agreement from Brussels. It is high time for the Tory Party to come together in the national interest.