As published in The Telegraph:
Many will be surprised that I supported the Government’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement on Tuesday following assurances from the Prime Minister and Attorney General.
There have been many difficult decisions since the referendum, but we must never forget one thing. The priority is to deliver Brexit and what record numbers of Britons voted for. They wanted to take back control over borders, laws and money and they want to leave the EU on time at the end of March.
On this basis I supported the Government on Tuesday – although the deal is a long way from perfect – because the alternative carries big risks. The vote was lost. The House of Commons has now decisively rejected the Prime Minister’s deal on two occasions by record margins.
My fear was, and now is, that Parliament will find a way of thwarting Brexit. A couple of weeks ago, the master Remain tactician, Tony Blair, virtually admitted this. Former Remain supporters in Parliament want to take no deal off the table because they believe this clears the path to a second Referendum, and hence to overturning the result of the last referendum.
I believe this would be a folly of the highest order.
Furthermore, No Deal must remain on the table as the key to leverage in negotiations. Without it, Parliament will have pulled the rug from under the Government’s feet in the Brussels negotiations. Then there would be no incentive for the EU to offer any concessions ahead of a potential last-minute meaningful vote on a deal.
In any case there is nothing to be afraid of in leaving the EU on World Trade terms. The majority of the globe conducts its trade in such a way and recently senior figures such as the Bank of England’s Governor, Mark Carney, have backtracked on their earlier pessimistic forecasts. Raghuram Rajan, the former Chief Economist the International Monetary Fund, has said the UK will thrive outside the EU. Recently the Office of National Statistics reported the UK economy grew by 0.5 per cent in January which was the fastest growth for over two years.
As the former Brexit Secretary, I know that UK business wants certainty and to leave the EU on time and in an orderly fashion. I think the way forward now is for Parliament to pass a compromise agreement which will unite Remainers and Leavers in delivering the Brexit the British people expect.
The Malthouse Compromise offered something for everyone. For Brexiteers, it kept No Deal on the table and maintained our strong negotiating position. It protected against any form of “cliff-edge” for those worried about leaving on WTO terms. It offered generous terms to EU citizens. It was backed by Conservative Remainers, soft and hard Brexiteers, and the DUP.
Frankly it looks like the only compromise which will gain the will of Parliament. This has been proven already by the passing of the Brady Amendment in January which the Malthouse Compromise complements.
The Malthouse Compromise fulfils Conservative Manifesto commitments to take back control over borders, laws and money and to leave the single market and customs union. It will unite the Conservative Party and provide a route out of the present imbroglio.
It is crucial we regain our discipline and energy to stop Jeremy Corbyn taking power in Downing Street. For the sake of our country and to restore trust in politics we simply must implement what the record number of Britons voted for in the Referendum.
The alternative is more resignations, leadership chaos, Remainers taking control of the Commons, a possible election, a Tory split, and a very left-wing Labour Government.
It is time to toughen up our negotiating position and see this through. I always said the EU would only make its move at the eleventh hour. We have already seen what happens when we are not robust. When Remain Cabinet Ministers strong armed the Prime Minister into effectively leaving without a deal, it gave succour to the EU.
Before then, Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, had said the EU would “explore the options in a positive spirit”. Angela Merkel said, “we must do everything to achieve an orderly Brexit”. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU were “determined to reach a deal with the UK”. And an EU Diplomat said, “There will be sufficient changes to allow Mr Cox to give a pass to the agreement”
Then when the EU saw the Government’s resolve weaken it hardened its line. Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, “We are not playing chicken. We are not playing poker, we are just standing by our position which has been solid since day one” Michel Barnier suddenly said “We will not allow a time limit or a one-sided exit right.” And Mr Cox could not give a pass to the agreement.
It is now time to regroup. There is no need to delay Brexit for any significant period. The UK must be prepared to leave without a deal if that is necessary. It is not the ideal solution, and not my preference, but it will command the support of the country and strengthen the Government’s hand.
My strong hunch is that showing such determination would again galvanise the EU into proper negotiation. The paradox is, the more willing we are to accept no deal, the less likely it is to happen.
The Malthouse Compromise can unite Party, Parliament and Country. By taking this up and endorsing such an approach the EU will surely see sense in the face of such resolve and we can finally deliver the Brexit the British people deserve.