You don’t need to be a pollster like Lord Ashcroft to get a sense that the British people are losing patience with the ongoing Brexit negotiations. Whether you voted Leave or Remain, the phrase “just get on with it” is common among those who believe we must implement the wishes of the British people. Anyone who has recently watched the news can recognise this feeling: people just want it to be over. The general antipathy towards a so-called People’s Vote is the same feeling that was articulated by Brenda from Bristol at the announcement of the last general election: “You’re joking! Not another one!”
The proposal of the Prime Minister to further extend the transition period doesn’t just defy all logic and common sense, it is also dangerous. Dangerous for the international credibility of our country, which might be seen as getting cold feet on the crucial decisions that shape its future. Disastrous for democracy, with the deceptive Chequers deal leaving us half in-half out, when British voters were offered two clear alternatives, whether to leave or remain.
It would be catastrophic for the political stability of the country which is arguably more fractured than ever before. It would also be damaging for the future of the Conservative Party, whose first political objective at the current time is to deliver the Brexit that the people have voted for. Hundreds of thousands of voters would feel betrayed and would be ready to fly towards populist shores, on both the Right and the Left, handing Jeremy Corbyn the keys to Number 10.
Kicking Brexit into the long grass for “a matter of months”, or perhaps even a year, would be an act of disloyalty towards Conservative voters and anyone who chose to leave and take back control. It might even mean re-entering the EU through the back door, with even worse conditions than we had before, wasting more and more taxpayers’ money in these excruciating negotiations.
Earlier this summer, I and other colleagues wrote a cross-party letter to the Prime Minister, urging her to show courage and leadership in our negotiations, and we set out our red lines. Our letter clearly stated we would not accept any extension to the transition period beyond 31 December 2020 or any extension to the two-year withdrawal period as stated in Article 50.
Theresa May’s stubbornness and failure to listen to her Brexiteer Cabinet ministers, grassroots Conservatives and those who voted for her in good faith has already had repercussions for her credibility and her support inside and outside Parliament. The universal rebuke of her Chequers plan is only the latest demonstration of that.
The journey matters just as much as the destination and, to date, our trip has been plagued with problems and delays. Brexit provided hope for millions of people and, to many, this hope is rapidly diminishing. I genuinely believe that our country’s best days lie ahead outside of the EU, but we cannot continue to retreat when we should be pushing forward. Victory is within our grasp so let us stand firm and deliver on the promises made to the British people. An extended transition period would look more like a blue and yellow Brexit, rather than the red, white and blue one that was promised by May.
Every Prime Minister, every leader has a chosen mission. Theresa May’s mission is to deliver Brexit and to keep her promise that the UK will not be a member of the European Union as of 11 pm of the 29th March 2019. Not one day more. If she can’t deliver Brexit before the deadline, it is time to step aside and let somebody else do the job.