Esther McVey is a former Work and Pensions Secretary, and is MP for Tatton.
The fallout from Parliament’s rejection of the Meaningful Vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal continues, but what is clear is that something has gone very wrong in our politics. As most of this this site’s readers know, I resigned from the Cabinet over the deal. And in my resignation letter, I wrote about the danger of trust being lost. As a political class, we have stretched public trust to the limit in recent years but, if we now fail to honour the biggest democratic vote in our history, we risk severing trust entirely.
Parliament is awash with competing views about what needs to happen next. What is most startling is how most of these views have nothing to do with implementing the will of the people, and expose just how out of touch that political class is.
For a majority of Labour MPs, in particular ,this is about overturning a result they have never accepted. They believe people were too stupid to make an informed decision about how the EU affects their lives. Amidst the metropolitan bubble, they have convinced themselves that people across the country are clamouring to listen to their betters, and do as they are told in a second referendum. This view is deluded – and if they ever managed to block Brexit it could genuinely break politics as we know it.
However, it is the Conservatives who are most in danger of severing trust with the voters and suffering the consequences. We are the party in office – the party that introduced the referendum, and the party whose members predominantly support sovereignty and exiting the EU. We should take no false comfort in whatever polls might predict the election result to be when all trust has been lost. Not even the economic destruction threatened by the Marxist alternative might be enough to save us.
The Withdrawal Agreement falls short of delivering what people voted for, but it is the compromises doing the rounds that have the potential really to pour petrol on the fire. The current deal would leave us tied to the EU and their its indefinitely. So how is an alternative such as Norway Plus or Common Market 2.0, which look even less like Brexit, a potential solution? Not to mention that delivering either could only be achieved with the collusion of Labour MPs. What is worse is that at the heart of these developments is not what is best for the country, or genuinely delivering on the votes of 17.4 million people, but rather getting politicians out of a muddle of their own creation.
After the resounding rejection of the deal, the Prime Minister now needs to go back to the EU to get a better deal – fundamentally, to ensure the removal of the backstop, and that the payment of the £39 billion gains us a future trade deal along the lines outlined by Donald Tusk back in March 2018, sometimes referred to as Canada Plus.
At the same time, so that the EU can be in no doubt of our Government’s will to deliver for the people, and for our Party to live up to our general election manifesto commitment that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, we need to show how we would spend that £39 billion at home if we left without a deal; reveal to the public all the no deal preparations already done by the civil service; explain what World Trade Organisations rules are, and set out the side deals we need to secure.
We also need to look at a ‘no deal transition period’ just like the kind we had for a ‘deal transition period’ – i.e: a payment for a period of time whereby we and the EU adjust to the changes ahead of us. This would continue as already planned until Dec 2020. We are good neighbours, and seek to remain as such.
What we can’t do is shackle ourselves to a bad deal simply to get Brexit over and done with because politicians think the effort of coming out of the EU is too much hard work. Nor can we keep the public in the dark about our options post-29th March, simply because politicians don’t want change. Change is inevitable – and preparations and planning are the solution. For the idea that somehow things will move on and people will forget what they voted for in the biggest referendum of a life time is fantasy. Let me assure my colleagues that if we break the public trust on something as big as this we will not be easily forgiven.