As published in The Telegraph:
I like to think I understand the pressures and processes of the Conservative Party leadership election as well as anybody. Believe me I’ve lived it in a previous life.
The biggest vote driver amongst MPs is retaining their seats. Similarly, this is the major motivation of many candidates, activists and members across the country. There is no harm in that. We need to win seats to form a Conservative government. The alternative in the form of crypto Marxist Jeremy Corbyn is a frightening prospect. A return to high taxation, state ownership and abdication of the national interest.
The stakes are high and pledges matter. The British people are frustrated that Brexit has not been delivered. They voted in record numbers in a Referendum. The managed decline of the negotiations is seen as incompetence as well as a breach of trust. We have already seen the electoral consequences and if the Brexit Party stands against the Conservative Party, we could face the SDP on steroids and be fatally damaged.
I talked to Boris Johnson yesterday and outlined my concerns. The date of leaving on 31st October simply has to be fixed whether with a withdrawal agreement or without one.
I made my concerns clear, and he gave me the absolute assurance I was looking for. Without equivocation. We will leave the EU on 31 October.
As the former Brexit Secretary my concern has been that preparations have to be thorough. Any incoming Prime Minister will be ambushed by politicians and by officials. They will have their own agenda and will test a new leader’s mettle and determination. So, the elected leader, and of course Prime Minister, needs to have the determination, the clarity, the fortitude and the leadership to see this through. I am confident this is the case with Boris. He impressed me with his thinking and with his resolve.
I saw the reality of negotiations with our EU counterparts. Those that have spread scare stories have let our country down. They have acted against our national interest. When we needed leverage in negotiations, they sought to undermine our position.
For example, only by seriously preparing and contemplating leaving without a deal can the UK persuade the EU to agree to a better deal. We should not seek no deal, but we must be willing to have no deal if our partners are unreasonable. That is the best way to get a deal. I have consistently said this and indeed paradoxically if the EU had seriously believed the UK was comfortable with leaving without a deal, we would now be looking at a much better deal.
Now is the time to honour the Referendum and to make sure we leave on 31st October with our heads held high, delivering the Brexit the British people deserve and voted for.
Boris recognises that delivery is all important. Voters have deserted our Party because we have not kept our promise to deliver Brexit. The morale of our members is low.
The sheer size of his support in the Parliamentary Party shows that Boris is the right man at the right time to transform the situation. The Conservative Party is at its best when it has a clear vision and leadership. It is at its weakest when it resorts to managed defeatism. Our greatest Prime Ministers like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher have been insightful and brave. And they led formidable teams. When you think of Thatcher you also think of names like Carrington, Whitelaw, Lawson.
Frankly this is our last chance to put things right and to renew our Party. We must leave the EU on October 31st, with or without a deal, so we can unite our country, restore trust, and so we can move on to focus on issues like jobs, education, and housing.
If we get this wrong and fail to deliver Brexit, then we risk the chaos of Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage, and the death of the Conservative Party as we know it. I know that Boris recognises the scale of the challenge he faces, and I know that it is a challenge he relishes. He is the candidate who can win back the voters the Conservatives have lost and keep Jeremy Corbyn out of power.
He has taken on tough challenges before in the shape of the London Mayoral elections and as the face of the Leave campaign. He has come through those and I believe that if he delivers on his pledges, he will restore the Conservative party’s fortunes now and, in the process, unite the country as we finally put to bed the issue of Brexit.
That is what we need now. A team that unites our party and our country. It is not too late. I am backing Boris to put things right and to put our Country and Party on the track to a better future.