Tory moderate MPs need to now put the country first

PUBLISHED: 09:55 15 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:09 15 February 2019

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd leaves 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd leaves 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

WILL DRY says the Labour Party has been clear about wanting to stop a no-deal Brexit but the moderates in the Tory party have been all talk with no action. When will they act?

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The group of MPs most complicit in the rising chance of an accidental no-deal Brexit is not the ERG. Nor is it the Labour frontbench. The former, if one takes them in good faith, believe crashing out would be brilliant for the country - who can blame them for pushing for it? In their ideal future, we would currently be preparing to cushion our fall off the cliff-edge. And the one clear feature of Labour’s Brexit stance is its opposition to no-deal. The bulk of the blame can be laid at the feet of moderate Conservative ministers who are all talk, and no action.

Many, such as Greg Clark, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Richard Harrington, hide behind the line “if no-deal becomes government policy, then I’ll resign.”

This is duplicitous and cowardly. A no-deal will never be government policy. At 10:59pm on the 29th March, Theresa May will be protesting that, give her 30 seconds more, and she’ll secure a fundamental reworking of the backstop so that her deal can secure a majority in parliament. And it costs very little to pretend to show principled opposition, while doing nothing to actually prevent it.

When will the likes of Richard Harrington wake up? Theresa May has long decided they are ignorable, if not expendable. She has calculated, so far correctly, that the moderates will never split the party, never cause a real ruckus, and that she can always depend on them. Of course, the danger isn’t that the prime minister wants no-deal - the danger is that she has probably never really thought about whether or not she would let it happen.

The danger is May’s delusion that it’s her duty to secure a deal that gets the UK out on 29th March. Why else would she, despite all sane people around her having accepted that an extension has long since been necessary, still firmly reiterate in cabinet, and again in Brussels, that we will leave on the 29th March?

This delusion means that, as it stands, there is no significant political obstacle between now and the United Kingdom crashing out of the EU on the 29th March. The only potential obstacle is the Conservative moderates actually doing something.

Yet they do nothing consequential. They indulge the prime minister, tacitly endorsing her bouncing from Northern Ireland to Brussels in search of concessions these Conservative moderates know do not exist. Their inaction is an endorsement of the government trying to appease the unappeasable ERG. They tell the prime minister at every cabinet meeting, in every conference call, that she is being played by the ERG who just want to run down the clock, that Europe will and can never agree to what she is demanding. But that is all they do.

They know the prime minister is not a good listener. They know her mind has never been changed by arguments, only by reality and actions. The collective, cowardly, and lazy assumption they are making is that they can influence the PM by telling the prime minister and the press the same thing they’ve said for the last two years. It’s clear words will not be enough.

Just one resignation over this would reduce the threat of no-deal to nil. Instantly, the moderates’ warnings would gain weight. The PM would know that if she didn’t move quickly to rule out no-deal, she’d lose five more in the next 24 hours. The country is watching. Those who rise to the challenge will be remembered more fondly than those who wait until there is no risk.

If no-one does, and Brexit turns out to be the car crash these moderates fully expect it to be, there will be no hiding place for them. They are the ones who knew full well the damage that leaping off the cliff edge would do our country, and the ones who allowed it to happen anyway.

We’re going to make them listen - if you’re young, and angry about Brexit, join us at parliament takeover on February 27th.

• Will Dry is a campaigner for Our Future Our Choice, the anti-Brexit youth organisation that is calling for a People’s Vote.

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