“How long can this Brexit shambles go on?”, “I have been betrayed” and “I’m voting UKIP next time, I no longer trust the Prime Minister” these are such some of the comments made in the emails I receive daily. This is undoubtedly a sad state of affairs and unless we start listening to our constituents then we are heading for an electoral disaster at the next general election.
It was a difficult decision for me to publicly speak out against the Prime Minister. I have been a loyal backbench MP since I was first elected in 2015, but more and more of my colleagues and constituents are dismayed by the lack of leadership and the wrong direction the party and the country are being taken in, especially over Brexit. I remain a loyal Conservative, however, enough is enough and it is time for there to be a new leader.
I have made it clear that I no longer have confidence in the Prime Minister’s ability to lead the country and to guide us through the remaining stages of the Brexit process. The Chequers proposal is ‘Brexit in name only’, we voted to leave the European Union and that means all of its institutions including the customs union and common rulebook. Those of us who campaigned to leave the EU made promises to the electorate and to our constituents and we cannot go back on our word. Let us not forget that every Conservative MP stood on a manifesto to deliver Brexit and we each have a responsibly to the British public to deliver the referendum result. We now need to be fully independent and we need to fully grasp the opportunities that will open up to us after we leave.
Today, the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee will meet and one issue that many will thinking is not if, but when is there going to be a leadership contest. I have spoken with many colleagues over the past few weeks and I have been approached by both backbench colleagues and ministers concerned about our Prime Minister’s vision for Brexit. More would like to put their name in but many have concerns. Here are some examples of the barriers that I am hearing preventing people from putting their letters in.
The first is the fear of another election and a Corbyn government. There is no constitutional need for a general election if the party changes leader. We didn’t have a general election after Theresa May won the 2016 leadership contest by default, Major replaced Thatcher without an election and Callaghan replaced Wilson. I hear colleagues on both sides of the House telling me that they don’t want to see a general election and thanks to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act I can’t see two-thirds of colleagues voting for an election anytime soon. My Conservative colleagues certainly wouldn’t vote for an election following Theresa May’s disastrous general election last year. There won’t be another election before 2022.
Another criticism I continue to hear is that we can’t replace the Prime Minister during this critical juncture. In November 1990, John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher during the eve of the Gulf War when 50,000 troops were deployed in the Persian Gulf and let us not forget that Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain in May 1940. If we can place the Prime Minister during war we can do so now.
The amount of time needed to hold a leadership contest is a concern to some. It is important that all leadership contenders are properly scrutinised by the party and the press. However, this whole process could be done within two to three weeks. There is no reason why the parliamentary party can’t narrow down the two candidates in a few days. Now that CCHQ centrally holds all membership details, the party could be easily contacted and the candidate’s manifestos could be emailed and sent directly to the membership. Debates could be streamed over the internet and on social media, we could see a new leader - if the 1922 committee and the Conservative Party Board agreed - in only a few weeks. According to a September Conservative Home poll which indicated less than 19 per cent of members thinking that Theresa May should not resign as party leader, I am confident that the party membership would welcome the opportunity to finally have their say over who should be our party leader.
Some say that another leader would be faced with the same issues as the Prime Minister, specifically the parliamentary arithmetic. It has become clear that only a leader who genuinely believes in Brexit can deliver Brexit and we need to start playing hardball to get a better deal for Britain. A new approach and a better deal on the table could galvanise enough support from the House to get the deal through.
A number of colleagues are concerned about putting their letter of no confidence in as they fear these names could be leaked to Number 10, potentially damaging their career prospects. This is nonsense, this is a private ballot and I trust Sir Graham Brady completely. There is no risk of names being leaked.
Some are beginning to argue for leaving with a temporary deal, for example, an EEA/Norway deal, and negotiated better terms later. The problem with this idea is that the same issues regarding the parliamentary arithmetic and Irish backstop will still exist. We need to negotiate now while our hand is at its strongest. We still have the £39bn divorce settlement that they want and when we leave the UK will be the EU’s largest trading partner, bigger than the USA or China. The EU want our money and want our trade. We are in a better position now than we would be after we give away billions of tax payer’s money.
No doubt we are running short of time to deliver on Brexit and if we were to change leader it would need to be now. I will be keeping my fingers crossed that Sir Graham Brady will have received 48 letters by the time of the 1922 committee meeting on Wednesday. The clock is ticking and we have this short window to install a leader who will be strong, stand up to the EU and demonstrate a new approach to delivering Brexit.
We need to act now, otherwise, the electorate will never forgive the Conservatives for giving them Brexit in name only. This would be a disaster for democracy, for trust in politicians and for our party. I say this in sorrow not anger. My constituents tell me they feel sorry for the Prime Minister. I’m sorry but for a Leader that is not a good place to be. The Prime Minister should not feel our pity - they need to feel our support and that’s why with heavy heart I say it’s time to stand aside for the good of our country.