ANDREW ADONIS: The new Tory wets are preparing to surrender

PUBLISHED: 16:00 23 August 2018

Tom Tugendhat. PHOTO: Parliament TV

Tom Tugendhat. PHOTO: Parliament TV

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ANDREW ADONIS talks Tory party loyalty, and Tom Tugendhat

Here are some wise and moving words: “I cannot, in all conscience, follow my heart and not my head when to do so would, I believe, diminish our security. No matter how emotionally appealing it would be to leave, I have a duty to think hard what would be best for Britain and best for our community.”

Wow, how Churchillian. Even I hesitate to put Brexit in the realm of ‘conscience’ because of concern that the language of extreme right and wrong so easily slides into the language of treason and violence. We have had too much of that lately.

However, I agree with Tom Tugendhat, the Tory MP who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons – a big and influential beast. And no-one has greater moral authority to say it, than a distinguished ex-army officer who spent more than a decade in combat zones and regularly put his life in harm’s way.

A few months ago, a question among mainstream commentators was: “Why is Tugendhat not foreign secretary rather than the appalling Boris Johnson?”

So imagine my surprise when, parliamentary vote after vote over the summer, including on membership of the customs union, Tugendhat trooped through the government lobby behind Rees-Mogg, Johnson and Gove.

I thought this might be a mistake, so I sent a copy of my book Saving Britain to Tugendhat, with a note pointing up chapter seven on the Putin/Trump/Xi menace to our security, where I had quoted no less an authority than Tugendhat himself on the importance of staying in the EU. No reply.

So I took to Twitter, and got a ferocious reaction. Leaving aside the personal abuse – “ermine-clad troll” is now on my Twitter handle along with Rees-Mogg’s “cave man” and Farage’s “twisted weasel” – his response was this: “There is no going backwards. We have to leave. The people have spoken.”

Ahem, what has happened to “all conscience”? Has that been superseded by a narrow referendum result? I thought the point about conscience is that it isn’t determined by what some other people thought on June 23, 2016?

But anyway, as we all know, the people did not speak for a hard Brexit, which is what Tugendhat has been voting through. It transpires, from recent detective work, that even Rees-Mogg told parliament a month before the referendum that the vote wasn’t for a particular ‘leave’ option and that the Swiss and Norweigan models, and indeed “completely free trade,” would all be on the table.

Except that they were taken off immediately after the vote by Theresa May. And Tugendhat and the new ‘Tory wets’ have kow-towed.

Why? Not because they have changed their mind. Nor because they think May is conducting a brilliant negotiation, replacing the customs union and single market with something better to maintain Britain’s trade and security.

No, the kow-tow is to the virulently hard Brexit Tory grass roots. And to a party loyalty which is largely self-serving, since the only purpose of supporting a bad policy over a good one – on a matter of “conscience” and “duty”, in Tugendhat’s words – is political self-preservation and self-advancement, not the best interests of the Conservative party let alone the country.

Also, social advancement. Never forget with these Tories, politics is about social position as well as political career. Nothing works more powerfully in Tory England, including the dinner party circuit in London and Tugendhat’s constituency of Tonbridge, than the threat of social ostracism. Particularly for an ex-army officer whose whole life and family are Tory.

For Tugendhat, read another hundred Tory MPs who were strongly Remain in 2016 – and strongly wet now.

We have been here twice before – with the appeasers in the 1930s, who went along with Chamberlain and Halifax, and with the ‘wets’ in the 1980s, who failed to stand up to Thatcher as she decimated British industry and created Disraeli’s ‘two nations’.

The quintessential wet was Sir Iain Gilmour. Very liberal, strongly opposed to monetarism and the hard-right economic and social policies of Thatcher. But did he launch a leadership challenge – or organise a serious Tory rebellion – or join the SDP with Roy Jenkins, with who he had far more in common than with Thatcher? No. Lady Gilmour had been a bridesmaid of the Queen, my dear chap. And Sir Ian was a baronet.

Instead Gilmour wrote a memoir after the event which was strongly critical of Thatcher. It even had a daring title Dancing with Dogma.

But the picture on the front cover gave the game away. It was of Sir Ian dancing with Thatcher at a Tory party ball.

The pity is that until he became a wet, I thought Tugendhat might be a good foreign secretary. But one Lord Halifax is enough.

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