DOMINIC GRIEVE on why he and other MPs expelled from the Tory party retain the true mantle of conservatism.
The last few weeks have been a turbulent time in politics. The prime minster continues to pursue his ‘do or die’ approach to Brexit, claiming he is implementing the referendum result and representing the will of the people with his reckless no-deal plan. Despite overtures from the government that a deal with the EU is achievable, the fact remains no workable proposals have been presented to the EU, thus making a no-deal outcome all the more likely.
Not only does a no-deal Brexit have no democratic mandate from the public – we must remember the promises of the Leave campaign in 2016 were to leave responsibly, with a deal – it would also be deeply damaging for our country.
As a One Nation Conservative I am deeply fearful of the long-term damage a reckless no-deal exit – which knowingly risks prosperity, increases poverty and even threatens medical supplies – will do to both the people and my party. That is why I have been working with my colleagues in the House of Commons to prevent this from happening.
Recently 21 Conservative MPs – including myself – had the party whip withdrawn for supporting legislation to force the prime minister to delay Brexit until January 2020, unless MPs approve either a new deal or a no-deal exit by October 19.
I brought forward a motion earlier this month – which was passed by parliament – to instruct the government to release the Yellowhammer documents and the communications of Dominic Cummings and others which relate to the prorogation of parliament. At the time of writing, the government has sought to comply with the former, but not the latter.
Even the partial release of the Yellowhamer documents is enough to show how deep the damage a no-deal exit from the EU would be. It would be deeply damaging to our economic interests and to social cohesion, whilst risking the break-up of the United Kingdom.
As the debate around Brexit becomes more fractious and divisive, those in my party must reflect on what it means to be a Conservative in modern Britain and why Brexit – especially a no-deal outcome – is inherently unconservative. To be a Conservative means to be pragmatic, supporting evidence-based policy-making and being unbeholden to blind ideology. As Conservatives, we recognise economic and political realities and remain cautious of utopian ideals. To be a Conservative means respecting democratic institutions, supporting personal freedom and spreading opportunity. It means economic competence and being the champions of business. As Conservatives we take pride in the UK, our history and values and seek a strong union between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It is fundamentally unconservative, to embark on a revolutionary – rather than the process of evolutionary – change. A no-deal Brexit is the very embodiment of revolutionary change. But it is more than just this revolutionary nature that makes it unconservative. No-deal undermines everything that being a modern Conservative means and the Conservative Party should represent.
Crucially, Conservatives are unionists. The potential of a no-deal Brexit to break up the UK is both real and worrying. It will fuel the debate for Scottish independence and create a hard border on the island of Ireland. For such an act to be committed when the Conservative and Unionist Party is in government is almost incomprehensible. The blame for all of this will rightly fall at the Conservative Party’s door.
I am pleased to say an organisation that I serve as chairman does understand what it means to be a Conservative in modern Britain – the Conservative Group for Europe (CGE). The group brings together MPs, peers, former MPs and MEPs, activists and other stakeholders who support the closet, practical possible relationship with the EU. We are a broad church, representing a variety of views about what the future relationship with the EU should look like.
Indeed, I have been a strong advocate for a People’s Vote, whereas my colleague and vice chair of the group, the Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, supports leaving the EU in an orderly way, with a good deal. However, many of us are united in our opposition to an undemocratic no-deal exit and the CGE recently launched a ‘No2NoDeal’ campaign, to prevent such an outcome.
As part of our campaign we commissioned polling. The results demonstrated the blind and irresponsible charge for Brexit at any price is conveying the message that the Conservative Party is no place for moderates. It is alienating more moderate voters than attracting hard-line Brexiteers. When we asked 10,000 voters across all constituencies in Great Britain the question: “if there were a general election held tomorrow and the Conservative Party and the Brexit Party had a no-deal Brexit policy in their manifesto, which party would you vote for? The results showed the Conservative Party would be returned with fewer seats than Theresa May secured in 2017, directly as a result of Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit.
The results were sobering enough, including the potential loss of ten seats in Scotland, but this is before the potential for tactical voting is factored in. Our poll shows that a fifth of Tory voters may defect if they can thereby block no-deal.
Despite parliament being prorogued I will continue to work with my parliamentary colleagues to ensure a no-deal outcome does not become a reality and the Conservative Group for Europe will continue the No2NoDeal campaign, standing up for true One Nation Conservatism and opposing a no-deal Brexit.