The following article first appeared in the Telegraph on 20 March 2019. It may be accessed here: bit.ly/WAStandFirm.
The one advantage of the Cabinet’s Withdrawal Agreement is that it would allow us to claim Brexit on March 29. Of course, some colleagues are attracted to it – but the British people have already spotted a dud deal.
According to ComRes polling yesterday, 54 per cent say it does not deliver. Just 14 per cent approve. If we put this agreement through and Theresa May negotiates the future relationship as hopelessly as our withdrawal, we will find ourselves with all the disadvantages of membership and none of the advantages of Brexit.
I understand my Conservative colleagues want to say they have delivered Brexitfor fear of voter backlash and I understand the nation is crying out for progress, but this deal would backfire terribly by the next election.
Voting for this deal is not pragmatism. It is the reverse. It would be an understandable but counterproductive surrender for immediate respite.
The pragmatic, realistic response to the deal is to keep clearly in sight what it does, what it will stop us from doing in future and the impossibility of escape from it, once we have locked the door on ourselves.
Leavers cannot be responsible for the actions of pro-EU fanatics determined to overthrow the foundations of our democracy, whether they attack the mandate of the voters, the procedures of the House of Commons or the ministerial code. Some of us will not be forced to share responsibility with them for overturning not just the decision of 17.4? million people, but the legitimacy of our entire system. That is what we will have done if we convert a clear instruction to take back control into a further surrender of our capacity for self-government, forever.
Elected politicians asked the public to choose. All sides said we would honour their decision. They chose independence, despite every horror placed before them, and we stood on manifestos fulfilling that choice. Yet since Chequers it can be seen our fearful Establishment intends us to be a satellite of the EU, locked in a decaying orbit with no way out.
If we vote for this deal, we will have locked ourselves in a prison with no voice and no exit. We will escape only with the permission of those whose authority we rejected. The PM won’t resign if the agreement goes through. She will stay and drag us miserably into deeper political disaster.
Practical politicians looking to the future must resist pressure and stop this deal. And it will not be stopped now or in the future by voting for it. This is reality and foresight. It is not self-indulgence or ideology but a practical grasp of what lies ahead.
Perhaps as some suggest, we are defeated, brought into a clever catch-22 with no good choices. But we were not outmanoeuvred. We were outnumbered. Always. From the start and regardless of the election. A determined minority of Conservative and Labour MPs has fought a sustained rearguard action all the way through. If, in the end, we are beaten by those numbers, there will be no shame in it.
But we are not beaten yet. Soon the EU27 will realise that there are those politicians in the UK who, together with a majority of the voters, will not “come to heel”. The EU will discover a strategy founded on our capitulation has not worked. They will see they cannot afford no-deal as they head into a European Parliament election already bound to undermine further integration. That’s why now more than ever the Prime Minister should change policy. At this European Council, it is time to strictly limit the length of the “Implementation Period” and to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements on the Irish border which can endure indefinitely between our two territories in a spirit of friendship, goodwill and trust.
In the midst of a deep political crisis following naturally from intolerable policy choices, the exit is clear – either revise the Withdrawal Agreement to deliver self-government, or exit on World Trade Organisation terms while offering to negotiate the EU’s proposal of last March. Any other course would be open to political failure.