This article was originally published with minor edits by the Sunday Telegraph under the headline, “Theresa May’s deal was a Brexit betrayal – but our country and our institutions can arise renewed“. It can be accessed at the Telegraph via bit.ly/WhoGoverns.
Since then, the Prime Minister has sought to work with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Here is the unedited version.
On Thursday evening, I decided to support the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. By the grace of God, I changed my mind with the help of friends. Now I see how my noble and brave colleague Richard Drax feels about backing this awful deal. He said in a television interview, “I personally feel utterly ashamed of myself for betraying everything I believed in, that this deal was a rotten deal.”
I could not be more proud of my Parliamentary colleague, both for the way he was willing to put his name to a proposition for the sake of the stability of the government and for the astonishing courage he has shown in revealing how he feels about it afterwards.
A gun was put to all our heads. Members of Parliament have been deliberately and systematically bullied by the British state towards a deal which is widely understood to be a betrayal of the fundamental principle of the referendum: a deal which converts a clear instruction to take back control into a surrender of our capacity for self-government with no voice, no vote and no escape.
That this would be done was announced in advance, at least twice. I recall reading in the press a Number 10 briefing that we would vote as many times as necessary to get the deal through, setting up a merciless battle of attrition. And Olly Robbins’ Brussels bar comments are well known: he was clear we would be made to believe our choice would be between the deal or a long extension.
He also confirmed what we knew: that the backstop is considered a bridge to the future relationship, not an insurance policy. Those of us who want an independent trade and regulatory policy for a free UK cannot accept a deal based on a customs union with a high degree of mandatory regulatory alignment. It would amount to a reversal of the referendum result, risking a Corn Laws-scale split in the Conservatives. On top of the indefinite threat to the union, that’s why some of us could not swallow this shocking withdrawal agreement. And using the contemptuous phrase that the choice should “focus MPs’ minds” merely adds to the outrage. Our minds are now and ever focussed on the national interest of the UK.
And yet the situation we face this week is worse still. The Prime Minister now threatens a general election if we will not surrender at a fourth attempt. Yet it is a deal which every member of the public who approached me on Friday knew was a stinking repudiation of their vote. In principle and with practical foresight, it cannot be allowed to go through at any cost.
So the plan reveals two things about those who would be our masters. They are so confident of MPs’ cowardice that they believe we will capitulate in our opinion of the national interest, not stand firm. And they are willing – as the Prime Minister’s horrible speech showed – to turn people on one another to get what they want: they presumably now anticipate that MPs facing an election will savage “recalcitrant” MPs into submission. They can think again: I will revisit once more the question of whether I can retain the Whip before I submit to a life of regret and shame after failing in a struggle for the rights of a free people in which others have literally fought and died.
Events today are no longer about Europe or the European Union. By failing to accept a lawful democratic instruction, by constructing an exit deal which is a prison in which to await our defeated return to “The Project”, officialdom has made this a question of who governs and by what authority. It is now of little consequence whether you voted Leave or Remain, Conservative or Labour, Liberal Democrat or Green. Does your vote count?
The spite, pride, mendacity and pitiless commitment to trampling democracy with which we are governed today leads me to describe the situation without hesitation as wrong: deeply, profoundly, intolerably wrong. The entire nation, and especially Members of Parliament, have a duty to defeat this constitutionally in the division lobbies and at the ballot box with an unyielding resolve, a restrained wrath and a ruthless commitment to the principles of a free and open society.
I hope everyone will stand with us so that from this descent, our country and our institutions can arise renewed, without fear of falling into the same fate for generations.