If Theresa May has been captured by the ERG, why are we still in the EU?

If Theresa May has been captured by the ERG, why are we still in the EU?

Just yesterday the formal group of eurosceptic Conservative MPs – the European Research Group – were described as “the far right of the Conservative Party” on television by the Head of Comms of the Centre for Policy Studies. Emma Barr, who until recently worked as a Press Officer for CCHQ , has since clarified that she meant the right of the Conservative Party, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when you consider the attacks on a group who are representing the mainstream Leave vote.

Barr also said that the ERG hadn’t compromised “at all”, which is just untrue. The irritating whine over the last few years from the talking heads has been that the Prime Minister has been “captured” by the ERG who have forced her to be too hardline. The truth is, the ERG have bent over backwards for a Prime Minister who has happily banked everything they conceded until she finally, this week, ditched half her party in favour of the Leader of the Opposition.

Just ask yourself this: would we still be in the EU nearly three years after the referendum if the Prime Minister was in the thrall of Jacob Rees-Mogg? Or would we be planning for the European Parliament elections if Steve Baker had Theresa May’s ear? For all her fighting talk at the last election, her grand exit strategy appears to have been a box-ticking exercise cooked up by civil servants. To ‘leave’, Theresa May used the EU’s own exit mechanism of Article 50 – hardly the tub-thumping idea of just repealing the European Communities Act suggested by some eurosceptics. She hadn’t even prepared the country for No Deal before she triggered Article 50, as Vote Leave had suggested should happen in their literature.

Far from ideological zealotry, the ERG’s compromises were too fast and too frequent for many Brexiteers. They accepted another 18 months of a transition period and even ECJ jurisdiction over the transition. Former Brexit Secretary David Davis accepted Downing Street’s sequencing of talks to begin with the ‘divorce’ first and then ‘trade’ second, despite personally disagreeing with it. The ERG even swallowed an exit bill of £39 billion, despite not believing that it was legally enforceable or that we even owed the money. Coastal MPs like Ross Thomson were apoplectic at the fact that under the transition the UK would remain in the Common Fisheries Policy after 29th March, after Downing Street dropped more of their red lines.

So who has really been captured? The only conceivable way in which Theresa May’s policy is connected to her Brexit-supporting MPs is that she needs their votes to get it through. But even then there has been no compromise from her side. Three times she has forced the same deal on the Commons with all the diplomatic guile of a battering ram.

When she, for one brief moment, appeared to be offering a compromise, almost the entire swathe of eurosceptics came so far they almost accepted her entire deal. The ‘Brady Amendment’, the one thing the Commons has actually approved, accepted the Withdrawal Agreement if the backstop was replaced with ‘alternative arrangements’. But this was a false dawn. Despite whipping MPs in favour of it, no attempt has been made by No. 10 to follow through. In her latest begging letter to Donald Tusk, the Prime Minister assured our bemused jailers that changing any of the unsigned Withdrawal Agreement was out of the question.

The idea that we’re in this mess because the Prime Minister has listened to Leave MPs is clearly false. Surrounded by the likes of Olly Robbins, Downing Street neither understands nor cares about the damage they have done to democracy, the constitution or the trust they have with the electorate. And when the history of this period is written, the ERG – the real mainstream of Leavers – will be viewed as flexible beyond belief in the face of a Government that treated them with nothing but suspicion and disdain.