The Tories can either deliver Brexit and benefit politically or delay it and never be trusted again

The Tories can either deliver Brexit and benefit politically or delay it and never be trusted again

I’m not going to sugar the pill today. Instead I intend to raise some questions upon which I do not think many Conservative parliamentarians have reflected sufficiently. Questions like:

  • Why should any of the 17.4 million Leave voters ever trust the Conservative Party again? Why should they take the Tories seriously as a pro-Leave entity at all?
  • Why does a party that keeps Philip Hammond as Chancellor, Greg Clark as Business Secretary and Amber Rudd as an out-and-proud Cabinet champion of overturning Brexit via a second referendum, even expect to be trusted by Leave voters?
  • How come Conservative Campaign HQ and various party luminaries dare to tweet out criticism of Labour for wanting to rule out the so-called “No Deal” (WTO) Brexit, when people serving in senior government positions are publicly calling for the same?
  • Do they think us all idiots who will forget about them betraying their manifesto promises in government before our very eyes, just because many Labour people are doing so in opposition?

These are all questions currently running through the minds of Leave voters as the calendar whirls on towards 29th March.

Oh yes, 29th March. There is no dodging that one, my Conservative friends (and I do still have a few). This is the moment of truth for the Tories.

I would like the many Conservative readers of BrexitCentral to understand one thing: if, after all your Government’s unredeemed Brexit promises, after recklessly creating a hung parliament not formally bound by its predecessor’s commitments, after cravenly agreeing to the EU’s preferred sequencing of negotiations, after signing up to the indefinite Irish backstop, after your Prime Minister promised clean Brexit even as Olly Robbins was – on her instruction – getting down and dirty in Brussels, after not taking No Deal preparations seriously until the eleventh hour, after coming back to the Commons with a veritable “turd” of a deal that was always going to be heavily defeated, if after all that your party fails to take the UK out of the EU on 29th March, you will have been well and truly rumbled. The game will be up.

You may, of course, still be able to make a decent fist of it in the battle for the future votes of some middle-class, prosperous Remainers, who don’t like the look of Jeremy Corbyn much. You will, after all, be able to tell them: “We came through for you in the end. We ran Brexit into the ground. We demoralised the Leavers. We dithered the thing to death. We are a safe bet for people like you. So please vote for us.”

But what message will you have for the Leavers who form two-thirds of your potential electoral support? “Don’t worry, this is just a delay. We will still get there in the end. Honest.” Forget it. When the third anniversary of the biggest vote for anything ever passes with the UK still locked in the EU, we will all know. Corporate money will have won the day again.

The party that took us in without a mandate to do so will have kept us in without a mandate to do so. The party that chose a Remainer Prime Minister to replace a Remainer Prime Minister will have wilfully failed to seize the rich and exciting opportunities of the Brexit vote.

Even those many superb Tory Leave campaigners who have never flinched – the Steve Bakers and the Priti Patels – will rapidly lose credibility if they continue to urge people to vote for the party that oversaw the death of Brexit.

A giant political space will open up for something new to better serve the pro-Brexit millions. The unmerited luck you enjoyed when UKIP marched off the Brexit pitch last year will have run out. You will have Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party ready and waiting for you at the next round of European Parliamentary elections. The “next round” – what an appalling and sick betrayal of democracy that would be! They will swallow up your Thatcherite supporters.

You will have my rapidly-growing party, the SDP, offering a genuine pro-Brexit pitch to the many sensible Leave voters who do not wish to follow where UKIP has gone, but will not again vote for a Tory Party that has treated them like mugs. And I promise you, we will be ready and waiting for you – and for Labour too – in any Peterborough by-election held in the shadow of the great betrayal.

You will have UKIP there as well as an outlet for the terrible anger that some Leave voters will need to express. You will be blamed for the Yellow Vests that will likely cause economic disruption so major as to make any short-term adjustment issues associated with a WTO Brexit pale by comparison. You will go down in the political folklore of this country as the least trustworthy party there has ever been.

Or you could remember that you told us that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. You could remember that you set 29th March in law as Brexit day. You could decide to deliver, thereby forcing Messrs Hammond and Clark to undertake some awkward calls to a few corporate CEOs who thought they had the whip hand (it would take a heart of stone not to find that amusing).

You could take us properly out of the EU and be the most likely political beneficiary of a great wave of patriotic support.

It is not well remembered that in the run-up to the Falklands War, as the task force was on its way to the South Atlantic, several senior ministers tried to convince Margaret Thatcher to back down and sign up to something they were badging as “pooled sovereignty”. Perhaps, if the proposals had ever come to fruition, there would have been an “Argentine backstop” involved somewhere along the line. But thanks to a Prime Minister who actually believed in her country, they didn’t. And I recall that the Conservative Party won three further consecutive terms in office.

The people who voted on 23rd June 2016 to leave the European Union expect to leave the European Union on 29th March 2019. Indeed, as supporters of the cause that won the referendum whose result you promised to implement, they demand it. That is hardly unreasonable. They have waited long enough. It is not just Brexit that is running out of time. It is the Conservative Party too.