Alexander Temerko: Without a softer Brexit, the Conservatives will be destroyed. Who can best deliver it – Hunt or Johnson?

Alexander Temerko is an industrialist and a Conservative Party donor and activist.

As Jeremy Hunt has rightly said, Britain is facing a constitutional crisis. A No Deal Brexit does not command Parliamentary support and will trigger an election – risking a Labour government coming to power that will not deliver Brexit.

Sadly, the current radicalisation of attitudes within the Conservative Party is making this scenario likely.  Last week’s You Gov poll showed how the party membership sees the major threat not from Labour, but from the Brexit Party: a two to one majority is in favour of pursuing Brexit, even it if leads to Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the Union and causes significant economic damage. A majority favours going ahead with Brexit, even if it leads to the destruction of the Tories.

Understandably, it has been impossible for the leadership candidates to ignore this determination to deliver Brexit at all costs. Their campaigns have reflected the belief that the Conservatives’ salvation lies in outflanking Nigel Farage.

In this frenzy, there is no room for compromise.  For understandable generational reasons, many party members holds strong views on Brexit. They remember the ‘good old days’ before Britain joined the European project, when the world was a different place. Most of us remember our youth with nostalgia.

Yet a much larger part of the Conservative electorate has grown up in different times. For many younger people who instinctively vote Conservative, the Brexit issue does not have the same potency. The same applies to business voters and those who seek ‘safety first’ leadership.

Unless it can quickly find internal compromise, the Conservative Party risks committing electoral suicide. In 2016, the electorate voted narrowly in favour of leaving the EU. It did not vote for either a hard Brexit or for a no-deal Brexit. Three years later, there is no evidence that attitudes have fundamentally changed.

The Brexit Party’s strong showing in the European elections was a protest by against the failure of the Government to deliver Brexit as it had promised. However, another significant part of the Tory vote went to the Liberal Democrats.

The fixation on ‘delivering’ Brexit is blinding the Conservative Party to the consequences of forcing the country to leave the EU without a deal. There is no time for a re-negotiation of the exit terms before October 31st, even were the EU 27 were to agree to such a change. This will automatically put Britain on the path to a No Deal Brexit.

If the country leaves without a deal, some Tories may congratulate themselves on killing off the Brexit Party.  But this will be a pyrrhic victory. Large-scale economic disruption will inevitably follow, and deliver a fatal blow to the Conservative Party’s reputation for economic competence. It will make Labour’s neo-Marxist agenda appear the lesser evil.

The only solution for Tories is to look beyond the Brexit issue, and see the real enemy. Jeremy Corbyn will only come to power if Conservatives allow him to.

My friends are wrong in thinking that victory over Farage will automatically translate into defeat of Labour since voters do not want Corbyn. In reality, voters do not want radicals. For them, Corbyn is a left-wing radical – and we are becoming radicals of the Right demanding that our leader takes extreme positions that we call the defence of democracy.

Making the commitment to leaving the EU by October 31st the main leadership requirement for the next Prime Minister will bring in a Labour government. In a snap election, a radical position on Brexit will drive voters away from the Tories to Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.

This extraordinary situation demands that Conservatives recognise that their internal divisions are empowering Labour and threatening to bring it to power. If this happens, Brexit, the British economy and the Conservative Party will be buried in a common grave for the next ten years under a heavy tombstone of socialism.

The Tories must now move to the centre ground and advocate a softer Brexit – one based on the acceptance that leaving the EU is far more complicated than originally conceived and that the terms of exit need broad public support.

The electorate is crying out for responsible leadership that safeguards the economy and the broader national interest. Only a de-radicalised Conservative Party can provide it.

This requires a Prime Minister who is pragmatic and has the experience, the grasp of policy and the personal qualities to reach across the divisions in both the Conservative Party and its electorate. Speaking to many donors at the Birmingham hustings on Saturday, I found that that Jeremy Hunt’s quiet assurances were more attractive to them than Boris Johnson’s rhetorical flourishes. Yet both have the task of bringing back donors who have moved over to Farage.

The choice is simple. There is Boris: colourful, full of unpredictable talents, the nemesis of Farage and annihilator of the Brexit Party – but leading the country to the total uncertainty of October 31st.

Or Jeremy – an experienced politician with authority, attractive to business and young people, capable of delivering Brexit and maintaining friendly relations with Europe, including trade, and at the same time able to consolidate the Party and mobilise the country to face the threat of Corbyn’s communism, Putin’s Russia and international terrorism.

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Author: Alexander Temerko


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