After last night’s vote, and as we contemplate what happens next, it is worth reflecting on the winning phrase that the Prime Minister kept repeating as she ran for leadership back in 2016. It ws of course “Brexit means Brexit”, and it worked. In particular, it sent reassuring signals to Brexiteers like me, who needed to hear that our leader understood the result of the referendum – that she “got it”.
On winning the leadership, Theresa May’s statement on the steps of Downing Street outlined the burning injustices that she wanted to tackle. A compassionate agenda that Conservatives can unite around. She was right to highlight those issues then, and that agenda is just as relevant today.
However, the Prime Minister has but one central task for her premiership. It is the one that she seemed to embrace so readily in the early days, and the one she articulated so clearly at Lancaster House. Her mission is to follow through on her promise and deliver Brexit.
Why, then, has she more recently began to assert that we may never leave at all? It is an odd about-turn, given that her leadership is predicated upon “Brexit means Brexit”. When did this change to mean that there may be no Brexit? That would be a political failure of catastrophic proportions, which the Prime Minister should not articulate, and which we will not countenance.
And yet that is the curious threat that has been uttered repeatedly in recent days to try to encourage Brexiteers like me to back her proposal. Last night, that did not work. As a result we are faced with two further key Brexit questions.
First, an extension of Article 50.
The Prime Minister has said at the despatch box more than a hundred times that we are leaving on the March 29th. Now, there would have been a perfectly reasonable argument for a short extension in order to pass any necessary legislation. But no-one who actually wants to leave should argue for an indefinite extension, and for no stated purpose. Delay will not help. It will give certainty neither to our constituents nor our businesses. Nor will it heal the divisions in the country. It will simply serve to prolong the agony.
The Prime Minister must stick to her word and stick to the 29th March, deal or no deal.
Which brings me to the second point. There is no such thing as “no deal”. On this occasion, although it is so obvious that we should be more positive, I don’t just mean that we should use my positive phrase a “Clean Global Brexit”. I mean something more fundamental. There is no such thing as a “no deal”, because we already have numerous deals secured.
These have not been announced or trumpeted with anywhere near sufficient fanfare. It is almost as if they have been sneaked out by politicians too embarrassed to admit their existence or efficacy.
Here are but a very few examples.
- If we leave without a deal, UK citizens in Spain will continue living there, as now.
- Further, our financial services have been granted temporary permissions by the EU.
- And guess what? Flights from the UK will continue flying into and over the EU.
- Then there is agreement for visa free travel.
- And again we have agreement for hauliers.
- The UK’s nuclear sector is now entirely No Deal ready.
And on it goes.
The Governor of the Bank of England is no natural optimist when it comes to the benefits of Brexit. But even he has recently reassessed our prospects for leaving without a deal. I do not pretend that it will be a walk in the park. And in the eyes of some people, we will never be fully ready. Politicians often need the wisdom of Solomon, and perhaps the following from Ecclesiastes 11 will help: “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”
My point is this. We already have deals in place. Scaremongering that we will crash out and fall off the edge of a cliff into an economic Armageddon will not work. We were warned about that before and the people of this great country of ours considered it, and voted leave despite these dire predictions.
As we eagerly await the next round of Brexit debates, and as we contemplate our votes later on, the Prime Minister must be reminded that Brexit really does mean Brexit, and that we leave on the 29th March.