19 Jun Why I quit the Government over Brexit: We cannot be sold a pup (Daily Telegraph Op-Ed)
When I resigned as a minister and left the Government last week, I did not do it to try to overturn the referendum result. In fact, I specifically said that we cannot – and should not – turn back the clock to where we were before the referendum. The public would not accept it and they would be right to be angry.
It is a very hard thing to give up a ministerial career and to go against the Prime Minister – somebody whom I have admired and considered to be a friend. I simply got to the point where principle, personal integrity and our country’s future had to come first.
It is true that I voted for Remain in the referendum. This was after some soul-searching because the European Union has manifest flaws. I have been characterised as a Remainer since I resigned – but my resignation was not about Remain or Leave. It was about defending Parliamentary democracy and avoiding an appalling situation which could leave supporters of both sides of the debate feeling betrayed and our country worse off.
For me, the line in the sand is the Government’s effort to emasculate Parliament by giving it a meaningless – not a meaningful – vote at the end of the negotiation process. This in my view is very likely to leave us with the worst of all worlds: a fudged compromise. A Remain-lite without any the advantages of remaining.
Let us be absolutely clear: Leave supporters have just as much at stake as those who were unhappy with the referendum result. And the last thing I want is for the Conservative Party’s legacy to be a damaging Brexit that hobbles our country for decades to come.
Yet if we as Members of Parliament are backed into a position where we have to accept whatever deal the Government can cobble together because the alternative is no deal, we could be forced to accept compromises which most leavers would find unacceptable.
Let us take fishing rights as an example. The fishing industry is relatively small in terms of GDP so, from an economic point of view, fishing rights could be traded away for a better deal. But the fishing industry is culturally significant for our country and played an important part in the referendum and last year’s election campaign.
My Scottish Conservative colleagues pledged to their voters that they would take back control of our fishing waters . So how could they possibly justify supporting a deal which gives away those rights? If the Government gets its way, their only other choice will be no deal.
Likewise, how could Leavers vote for a deal which ties Britain to EU regulation or into a customs arrangement that makes free trade deals with the rest of the world an impossible dream? The Government’s current line means they are in danger of losing everything for which they campaigned.
For me, a meaningful vote is not about a choice between a deal or to remain. It is about giving Parliament the power it needs to tell the Government to reopen talks, if necessary extending or suspending Article 50. And the indications I have had are that European capitals have an appetite to do this – a bad deal would be bad for them too.
I am deeply disappointed that the Government is trying to force an amendment to make sure that the choice is between a bad deal or no deal. In other words bad or worse. It seems that, despite their assurances, ministers were not really listening to the deeply held concerns about their strategy.
The tragedy of the Brexit debate is that it has been oversimplified. It is by nature complex and multi-layered. We need to keep enough control in Parliament to ensure that, if we do Brexit, we do it properly and do not end up with a deal that damages our country for generations to come.
So I appeal to colleagues across the debate – Leave, Remain and those in the middle – to support Dominic Grieve’s amendment to allow us as Members of Parliament to do our job and make sure the Government does not sell us a pup. If we fail, and the Government gets its way, our political generation will go down in infamy.
This article appeared online in the Daily Telegraph on 17th June 2018