We must put No Deal back in play to ensure positive engagement from the EU at the negotiating table

We must put No Deal back in play to ensure positive engagement from the EU at the negotiating table

How should the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister deal with Brexit? Only by facing the facts and then acting with energy and decisiveness.

First, we need to acknowledge the mistakes of the past few years. It was a mistake to agree a short Brexit timetable without a clear understanding of how that timetable could be achieved; not to recognise that the narrow but decisive referendum vote could and should form the basis within Parliament for an agreed withdrawal deal; to allow the EU to dissociate the financial settlement from the overall deal; and above all not to prepare from the outset for No Deal.

Secondly, we need to be clear about the mood of the country. There are feelings of division not seen in our recent history. It is fanciful to imagine that a second referendum could address them, and a general election would create chaos. The only solution to this division is for this country to leave the EU on or before 31st October.

Thirdly, we need to recognise the impact of the recent European Parliament elections. The political landscape in Europe is changing. There will be a new Parliament, a new Commission and a new President. Parties opposed to the EU have triumphed, not just in the UK, but in France, Italy and Poland. The momentum is with these parties.

Fourthly, we need to note the timetable. A new Conservative leader and Prime Minister will not be chosen until the end of July. If the new European Commission is not in place by October, there may be no counter-party with whom to deal over Brexit.

Fifthly, we need to accept that, as matters presently look, there remains no appetite within the EU to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement. This does not mean no renegotiation is possible, however.

Finally, we need to be realistic about No Deal. This is a highly unattractive outcome for all concerned. For the UK, it would not be an economic disaster, but it would likely mean a period of slower growth. The World Trade Organisation is not a fully functional organisation and “WTO terms” are by definition less frictionless than a deep economic union.

For the EU, No Deal would be a very bad result and, for Ireland in particular, No Deal would be disastrous. But the real point is that No Deal could well lead to a break-up of the United Kingdom.

What does all this mean? I would suggest this: No Deal must be firmly brought back into play. The new leader and Prime Minister needs to accelerate no-deal preparation still further within government.

As Minister of State in the Department of Transport, I was responsible for much of our Brexit preparation, especially in freight and road haulage. I saw directly how the possibility of No Deal improved the engagement and commitment of other European nations in working with us. So it will be here.

The political geometry of the EU is changing. This is the moment to reach out to all the different players, both among the nation states and among the EU institutions, to understand what motivates them and try to bring them to the table in a renegotiation.

There should also be movement within Parliament. The EU elections were dreadful for Labour. Wiser heads there will recognise that failure to leave will hurt them still further. All these factors point towards the potential for some form of consensus within Parliament.

I am now consulting with colleagues, party members and constituents on whether or not to stand as the next Conservative leader. With effective leadership, this country has a profound opportunity, and a duty, to address the coming global challenges through our history, culture, music, arts and science; through our Union, our language, location and law; and through our inclusive, forward-looking and entrepreneurial spirit.

For this, we must choose a leader not for three months, but for three years or more. But first we must take Brexit and get the job done.

This article was first published in the print edition of the Daily Telegraph on 30th May