Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
The absolute wrong test for the Chequers Brexit proposal is what it means for the Conservative Party’s poll ratings and support for UKIP. But if anyone wants to focus on polling then it is worth just reflecting that the 2017 election result showed what happens when we are on 42.4 per cent of the vote and 2015 showed what happens when we are on 36.9 per cent.
Leaving that to one side, Brexit is much bigger than our poll ratings. It is about the UK’s place in the world and securing a deal with the EU in our national interest. A Conservative Party which is seen to put its own political fortunes above the country’s will be truly punished by the electorate. And a deal designed only to kill off UKIP will be a very bad deal for the UK’s future prosperity.
Getting Brexit right is a matter of negotiating a deal in the national interest. That is the only test the Cabinet should be thinking of – and if two Cabinet Ministers, one DExEU Minister and various PPSs aren’t interested in doing that then the right place for them is out of government.
Brexit is, for now, the most important issue facing the country. But there are plenty of other issues we should be focusing on, and which people will expect us to have answers on by the next election. However, there is almost no government bandwidth to do so. That isn’t in the national interest either. Most people know that which is why the overwhelming sentiment at the moment is ‘just get on with it’.
Let’s be very clear what is on the table – a proposal which will enable manufacturers to keep trading; respects their just-in-time supply arrangements, the agencies they want to be part of, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs they’ve created. And a proposal which means the U.K. will have left the EU, stop paying into the EU Budget, and be outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
I am much more concerned about the plans for our services sector. In particular, financial services companies pay billions of pounds of taxes ,and the Government seems to have conceded their future regulatory alignment without a full negotiation. This does at least create some much-needed certainty but, unfortunately, also means that their planning for the movement of people and funds overseas will now continue at full steam.
Brexit was always going to involve compromises and trade-offs (a point which should have been made much, much earlier) so no one is going to get all they want. Some Conservative MPs, members and supporters seem to think a sensible response to Chequers and the White Paper is to call for a leadership vote. This breathtakingly self-indulgent move would definitely not be in the national interest and so should be dismissed immediately.
The Conservative Party appears determined to prove the maxim ‘we learn from history that we do not learn from history’ repeatedly. The 1990s should serve as a stark reminder about what happens when we fall out over the EU and undermine our Leader. We won again when we became a compassionate party which reached out to the centre ground of British politics. Why do we need to go through this cycle again?