Theresa May’s plan is a half-loaf Brexit and a disappointment – but we need to swallow our pride and back it

Theresa May’s plan is a half-loaf Brexit and a disappointment – but we need to swallow our pride and back it

To all my friends in the Conservative Parliamentary Party who want to defeat the Cabinet’s Brexit plans,

You will know that I have consistently supported Brexit since entering Parliament in 2005. Back in 2011, long before it became policy, I joined the Parliamentary rebellion to support a referendum.

When we finally got a referendum, I immediately declared for Brexit and campaigned for Vote Leave across South Wales and beyond.

On the night of the referendum, after days of hard campaigning, I was at the count in Monmouthshire with the local Vote Leave team. In the early hours I dropped off some of the volunteers. As I drove home I realised with a huge surge of adrenaline that we were going to do it, thoughts of sleep vanished, I turned the car around and headed up the M4, arriving at Parliament Square for dawn, and was back in Wales for lunchtime to address a celebration rally in the middle of Newport. My commitment to this has been 100%.

Before us is a half-loaf Brexit. It is a disappointment to all who dared to dream but were very much wide awake to celebrate in the early hours of 24th June 2016. But it is still a Brexit and, just about, fulfils our manifesto commitment.

Yes, we would have to accept EU standards. But we could also choose, in future, to reject new standards and revert to a different arrangement. It would be less of a clean break and more of a gentle change, but we would be taking control.

Yes, we would effectively be inside the Customs Union – but not locked in. The tariff collection model would allow us to strike new trade deals. The added complexity would be off-putting for other nations, but the possibility is there.

Yes, we would continue to allow EU citizens to come if they have jobs to go to, but we have been assured that blanket freedom of movement will end. More details would be welcome, but the days of people claiming multiple benefits for family members not even living in the country must absolutely stop.

Yes, we would continue to make payments to the EU but at a much lower level then previously. Again we need to know more, but the days of handing over £18 billion a year are long gone.

Yes, it is a soft Brexit and I don’t like it. But what is the alternative?

I hear it said that if we withdraw support from the Prime Minister, we can force her to come up with a stronger Brexit.

Where is the majority in the Commons for this?

We know that despite their manifesto promise to support Brexit, and the fact that they are led by one of the biggest eurosceptics in Parliament, Labour MPs (with a few exceptions) will vote against absolutely any plan the Government puts forward. So will the SNP and Lib Dems.

There are also a number of Conservative MPs who will vote for the softest possible Brexit and would, given the excuse, eagerly ignore the Conservative manifesto promise and vote to stay in the EU.

To achieve something in Parliament, around 325 MPs need to vote in the same lobby. We may not like it, but let us be realistic – there are simply not 325 votes in Parliament for a hard Brexit.

I hear it said that if even if a stronger Brexit proposal is voted down, it doesn’t matter because all we have to do is wait for next March, two years after Article 50 was triggered, and we are legally out of the EU without any deal. Bingo – hard Brexit achieved by the political equivalent of a football side, ahead in extra time, dragging things out by faking injuries and tying laces.

Maybe – and maybe not. If by January we appear to be heading for the no-deal clean Brexit that many of us would like, then we may well see 326 MPs voting together – for an extension to Article 50. An extension that the EU would eagerly grant, and could turn out to be indefinite. Neither the Heaven of Brexit, nor the Hell of the EU, but instead an everlasting purgatory.

Worse, a failure to leave by the end of March would surely be followed by a confidence vote and another election with the possible consequence of a eurosceptic Marxist Prime Minister leading a pro-EU Parliamentary Labour Party. It is unlikely to be a happy outcome for Britain.

To avoid this and achieve any form of Brexit, virtually every single Conservative MP is going to have to walk together through the lobby. There is no room for rebellions from either pro- or anti-Brexit Conservatives.

So to my dear colleagues with whom I have campaigned over many years for Brexit and on other matters, I say with absolute respect, now is the time for us to swallow pride and back the Prime Minister.

Let us not risk snatching a glorious defeat from the jaws of what is, still, a far greater victory than anything we could have hoped for in 2011 when we rebelled against our party to support a referendum.