The Brexit Deal

This is the full text of an article, an edited version of which was published on the front page on the Daily Telegraph on Saturday 17th November.

You never know quite why you are being summoned to see the Chief Whip. I feared that I must have said something wrong, or tweeted an off-key comment. And yet, after a meeting which lasted little more than a few seconds (possibly 10?), I was invited to become the then Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab’s aide (PPS or Parliamentary Private Secretary). Immediately and instinctively I accepted.

I must hold the record for being the PPS who has served for the shortest period of time. Less than 48 hours after I shook hands with the Chief, the Prime Minister held her mammoth Cabinet meeting, which resulted in Dominic resigning. How careless of me to have lost my boss in such a short space of time. Regret it? Not one bit. Trust your instincts.

And what do my instincts tell me about the Prime Minister’s proposed deal? They tell me to stop. To read. To look at the detail. I am, after all, a lawyer by training. In fact, it is incumbent on each one of us, every single Member of Parliament, to look at the detail. 

But when I look at it, my worst fears are confirmed. The bar of expectation had been set so low that I hoped and prayed that it would be better. The reality is that the deal may be even worse than we had been led to expect.

I am not even an ardent Brexiteer. I certainly did not come into politics to squabble about Europe. The Brexit question was and is quite simple for me. I believe that our laws should be made in Westminster, by our elected politicians, and not in Brussels. It is a question of sovereignty.

As to the deal, I needed to be persuaded of two things. Firstly that any transition is strictly time limited and that we can get out of it. And secondly that the whole of the United Kingdom would be treated in the same way (integrity of UK). In the House of Commons the Prime Minister, characteristically did not shy away from hard facts. It was pointed out to her that the protocol gives the UK a choice either to implement the backstop or to seek an extension of the implementation period. She confirmed that it would be a matter for negotiation with the EU. That is not good enough.

I have not been aiming for “no deal”. My preference was and remains a comprehensive free trade agreement. In any event, how terrible the phrase “no deal”. How negative. From here on in, we should and we must call it, “A Clean Global Brexit”. It will be a clean break and we will be trading on world terms, hence a few weeks back I coined the phrase a “Clean Global Brexit”. I would encourage likeminded colleagues to adopt this phrase, and abandon the negative other.

But the prospect itself is not terrible or negative. We will be trading on World Trade (WTO) terms. I would prefer a deal. There is a small chance that such a free trade agreement is still possible. But unless and until the EU is ready to treat our country with respect, and recognise its own disadvantages in the face of no deal, we must redouble our preparations for a Clean Global Brexit, trading on WTO terms.

And that’s my advice to the Prime Minister and anyone who wants to be the next PM. Theresa May said yesterday that colleagues “must do what they believe to be right”. This echoes what David Cameron said when he told MPs at a 1922 meeting before the referendum that we must vote with our heart and not what other people tell us. Ironically both persuaded me to act. The first, David Cameron’s, persuaded me that I should follow my conscience and campaign and vote to leave. The second, Theresa May’s, that it is right to speak out now, before it is too late.

Many people will struggle to support this proposal. A Clean Global Brexit will be bold. It will not be easy. Our leader must not pretend otherwise. There will be short term, administrative difficulties. We must not shy away from that fact and I know it to be the case. But so too did our everyone who voted leave. We knew. In fact there was a continuous refrain about how bad it would be. Do you remember project fear? It has never left us. If anything, project fear stepped up a gear the day after a referendum, and has been accelerating ever since.

There is no doubting the Prime Minister’s courage, her stamina and her sense of duty. How does she do it? What strength. What fortitude. So many said yesterday that they admired her: Conservatives yes, but so too and powerfully those on the opposite benches. However, sadly, the Prime Minister does not appear to believe in Brexit. There is still time for her change tack. If not, then we need a leader who does. We need a leader with vision who can take this country into the future, unafraid of a Clean Global Brexit.