They know that history will judge them if they don't
By Stewart Jackson
Daily Telegraph – 19 April 2019
The Easter holidays have offered a desperately needed respite for Conservative MPs as they consider the next steps in the Brexit soap opera. They seemed exhausted and broken as the Commons rose last week, with little sense of direction from the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the civil service or the Labour Party leadership, all of whom are playing for time: Like Sisyphus forlornly pushing his rock uphill.
Tory MPs will be pondering with horror recent poll findings. The Conservatives are experiencing their worst general election ratings in over twenty five years, and their support for the putative European Parliament elections in May is registering well south of twenty percent. The more active, those who have bothered to canvass their constituents, will console themselves that their middle-aged and middle-class core vote who, whilst grumpy, will not switch to Labour and Jeremy Corbyn but may very well sit these elections out.
This is true as far as it goes, but only half the story: the blue-collar working-class voters, without whom the Conservative Party can never again govern alone, are furious and seething at the betrayal of Brexit and the multiple pledges the Prime Minister has made and broken. They are consequently now trailing nine per cent behind Labour and the Brexit Party amongst semi- and unskilled workers.
The electorate outside SW1 are onlookers who can see more of the game. They know they’ve been conned. They know that our country – the fifth biggest economy in the world – has been traduced and humiliated and Mrs May has been forced to beg for extra time to Juncker and Tusk et al. They blame venal and arrogant politicians in Westminster – Commons and Lords – and many are angry and those who aren’t simply pity the Prime Minister. What unites almost all is exasperation and a longing for resolution of the Brexit imbroglio.
Meanwhile, the irreducible core [i.e. the 28 'Spartans'] of those Brexit heroes in Parliament who have thrice resisted the lies and blandishment of No 10 in order to put country before career and party, look set to be strengthened in the next few weeks, due to the sheer incompetence of their foes. The PM’s Withdrawal Agreement is not some kind of a comfort letter but a legally binding international treaty, which would be the subject of years of UK-EU rancour and dispute. It was and is Brexit in Name Only.
Mrs May is betting the ranch on doing a shabby deal with Labour to attach a customs union in any Withdrawal Bill she pushes through the Commons, thus alienating the vast bulk of her Parliamentary party. I suspect that the number of those unable to stomach such a repudiation of their manifesto promises will increase significantly. The Prime Minister needs Labour to help midwife her sub-optimal pseudo Brexit. Any deal better than a no deal, it would seem. But it won’t work. You can see the double cross from space.
Corbyn wants a Tory civil war but he also wants a Brexit and maybe a no-deal and a general election even more. He will lead May up the garden path so far and no further. She will have burned through what little political capital she has left and leave the Conservative Party pro-state and broken, and for what?
The Europhile establishment is beginning to panic. The words of Sir Ivan Rogers, our former Permanent Representative to the EU, this week, warning that a proper future Brexiteer Prime Minister negotiating with the EU would be a recipe for stalemate, should in fact be a clear signal of how much the EU would really fear a Boris Johnson or a Dominic Raab premiership, with a clear purpose and an unambiguous mandate, playing the cards Theresa May has so squandered since June 2017.
The pressure on my former colleagues to cave and back Theresa May's deal is now immense. Their colleagues are furiously trying to convince them that it is the only path to some kind of Brexit, and the only way to save the face of the party. But like the Tory backbenchers who, despite being browbeaten into supporting Neville Chamberlain in 1940 during the Norway campaign, refused and turned to Churchill to lead them, enough of my former colleagues have a sense of how history will view their actions in the next few months. The polls are grim so they have little to lose.
These MPs have been through fire for their principles. They won’t betray Brexit and they won’t crumble. If they do, frankly, there won’t be much of a Conservative Party worth saving.
Stewart Jackson is a former Conservative MP 2005-17 and was Chief of Staff to former BrexIt Secretary Rt Hon David Davis MP 2017-18