Last Wednesday, during the final PMQs of the Parliament, I asked the Prime Minister: when was it decided that Brexit meant remain? I asked this with the expectation that I would receive a mixed reaction. It has even been reported that the Chancellor reacted by making a disrespectful personal comment under his breath. This is the rough and tumble of politics and although I don’t particularly care what he thinks about me, it is vital to treat the 17.4 million leave voters with the respect and dignity they deserve. This was a question that millions of people across the country were also thinking including many of my constituents. I pride myself in being truthful and saying what I think. It was important that the Prime Minster was made to confront and understand the strength of feeling and sense of disillusionment that so many leave voters now feel.
It is now clear that Theresa May has enough support amongst Conservative colleges to remain as Prime Minster- for the time being. I respect the consensus reached and although I personally do not feel that this is best for the country in the long term, it is acceptable in the short term. I will however say one thing for Theresa; what she lacks in courage and leadership, she makes up for (almost) in resilience and perseverance. It is also taken as given that her premiership will always be preferable to the chaos that would ensue from a Corbyn-led socialist experiment. We must not forget that that this would be far more damaging to the economy than even the hardest of Brexits.
This, regrettably, is now a distinct possibility. Voters up and down the country feel badly let down by the party and if we continue down the path set out at Chequers, we will undoubtedly pay the price at the next election. With this in mind, I sincerely hope the Prime Minister will now use the summer break to reflect on the direction the Brexit negotiations are taking under her leadership. She must take the time to speak to voters in leave constituencies to understand for herself the sense of betrayal that is felt. As Boris rightly points out, ‘there is still time to change course’.
And change course, we must. I announced a couple of weeks ago that I handed a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister to the Chair of the 1922 committee. I am aware of quite a number of colleagues who also did the same. This was after extensive discussion during which we all agreed that the Prime Minister’s flagship Chequers proposal is fundamentally flawed. I am clear that in order to respect the referendum result, this policy has to change and I would be fully supportive of a Prime Minister who delivers this. I did not take this decision lightly but it was essentially about achieving a change in the policy.
I have always been clear, the referendum result must be respected and enacted in full. Even if there is a short term economic downturn. Even if there is short term disruption at the borders. Even if we upset the current British establishment. This is because I prize democracy above all else and the democratic system, fragile as it is, is only respected when people truly feel that their voices are heard and can make a real difference to their own lives.
Of course, this is easy for me to say, as I happen to believe that Brexit presents huge opportunities for our country in a changing world. The current international order is being challenged. The relationships of the old are soon to be replaced by bold new ones with the developing world. The insular, protective institutions of the past are stagnating and will be replaced with dynamic, modern partnerships enabling close cooperation for mutual benefit. We must have the confidence to take our future into our own hands and be brave enough to chart a new way forward that will ensure prosperity for generations to come.
In this new era, we should look to the East and embrace the titan economies of India and China, from which the majority of the world’s future economic growth will come. We should look to Africa and encourage the great economic transformation that is predicted to take place in the coming decades. We should look to central and southern America and support their development enabling close and lasting ties.
In doing so, we should capitalise on our many natural advantages; our English language, our Commonwealth, our legal system, our scientific prowess, our world leading financial and professional services, our free and fair press, our permanent seat on the UN security council, our military, intelligence and development reach, our unrivalled soft power diplomatic network, our Great British brand, known throughout the world as the champion of democracy and defender of individual freedoms. We should use all of these things to make a roaring success of Brexit.