As published on Conservative Home:
Amongst the speculation, froth and pomp of the Conservative leadership contest, there is a serious dividing line between the candidates – and that is how to tackle the elephant in the room which is Brexit
I’ve announced my support for Boris Johnson, because I really feel this is a last chance for the Conservative Party. The anger on the doorsteps about the Government’s failure to deliver Brexit is tangible. There is now a serious danger of the Conservative Party being eclipsed by the Brexit Party, and the prospect of the most left-wing Government ever under Jeremy Corbyn becomes ever more realistic and frightening.
Until we tackle Brexit, we cannot move on and unite and renew our Party. Only then can we defeat Corbyn. I am backing Johnson because he will deliver Brexit, unite our Party and then defeat Jeremy Corbyn. It’s as straightforward as that.
Almost a year ago, I resigned from the Government as Brexit Secretary. We had reached a fork in the road, and chose the wrong direction in the form of the Chequers Plan. It was a concession too far. A capitulation to the EU – and the end of what had been a serious negotiating stance.
It gives me no pleasure to have been proven right. As I predicted, if we were not serious about leaving without a deal, then the EU would not offer us an acceptable deal. It may have seemed paradoxical to some, but anybody in business knows that you have to be prepared to walk away from a negotiation, and you have to mean it.
The Chequers Plan and subsequent proposed Withdrawal Agreement were simply unacceptable for reasons which are now well rehearsed. The Irish backstop threatened the integrity of our union, we were handing a vast quantity of UK taxpayers’ money over to the EU with very few guarantees in return, and the UK was still subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
This was clearly unacceptable – since a record number of Britons had voted to take back control over borders, laws and money in the 2016 Referendum.
We missed the promised departure date of March 29th, and the Conservative Party’s poll ratings have not recovered. We simply must regain the public’s trust.
Now another deadline emerges in the form of October 31st. And, yes, it is a real one not a fake one. It is one that we cannot afford to miss again. To be credible in our negotiating stance, we have to mean that we are prepared to leave either with or without a deal. In this case, the national interest is also the Conservative Party’s interest, because the voting public are simply sick of what they see as the gross incompetence of deadlines being pushed back and the failure to deliver Brexit which they were promised would happen – before, during and after the 2016 referendum – if they voted to Leave.
Johnson has a clear plan to leave the EU, and as a former Brexit Secretary I can say that it is credible and has my support. He will seek a new withdrawal agreement which will deliver a more favourable terms for the UK. May’s Government was wrong to propose to hand over £39 billion before receiving any guarantees as to a future deal, and Johnson will ensure that payments to the EU are only handed over until there is greater clarity concerning the future relationship between the UK and EU. Alternatively, we can look at an interim agreement on tariffs until a more permanent deal is settled.
Finally, and crucially, he is absolutely correct to state that, come what may, the UK will leave the EU on October 31st. This is vital to our negotiating stance and the right thing to do because it is what the British public want and demand.
The path forward under Johnson is clear, and that is why I support his approach. Successive Brexit Secretaries have pointed to the extensive no deal planning which has already been prepared within Government. Bilateral deals on a range of areas are ready to be agreed. Only last week, serious alternative arrangements to replace the Northern Ireland backstop were proposed at a major conference.
We know from briefings that the Cabinet Secretary is softening his position. Mark Sedwill says there had been “a lot of preparation” for leaving without a deal” and that “we have got the government in pretty good shape and public services in pretty good shape for it”.
It is in everybody’s interests to agree a way forward which is fair and lasting. As Angela Merkel has said: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Boris Johnson has the plan, the energy and the conviction to ensure Brexit occurs. This will unite and benefit our country and the Conservative Party. Then we can move on to defeating our real opponent – Jeremy Corbyn.