The brilliant Jonathan Clark has argued on this site that the aftermath of the EU referendum pitched direct democracy against representative democracy. The people voted to leave. Parliament yearns to remain. We have all learned the hard way over the past three years that this conflict between the two leads to a festering stalemate. It has put our unwritten constitution to the test in radically new and deeply suggestive ways.
These have become familiar. ConservativeHome has always believed that the referendum mandate was clear enough, and that the UK should leave the EU without a deal, if no good deal option is available.
But we cannot prove our point as though it were a mathematical theorem. Some agree with us that the referendum verdict is binding; others disagreem and assert that it was advisory. No structure or system was created to decide one way or the other – a consequence of the unique cirumstances of the referendum. It was the first in Britain’s history in which the Government actually wanted a No vote, and so David Cameron deliberately didn’t prepare for a resolution.
Hence so many of the trials and tribulations of the last three years. A Commons that effectively made extension-obsessed Oliver Letwin a Prime Minister in all but name – and he’s at it again tomorrow – without him being accountable for his plans at the despatch box. A biased Speaker who is a player, not an umpire, thus trashing his office and making a mockery of Erskine May. The Benn Act – driven through Parliament in less than a week, ithus flicking a V-sign at our constitutional norms. A Supreme Court that has junked law for politics. An Opposition that claimed to want an election, but has twice voted against one. An fractious Conservative Party.
We don’t know as we write what exactly MPs will vote on tomorrow. Though we do know that the decision will be largely in the hands of the Speaker, which is bad news for Boris Johson and the referendum verdict. We also know that two loose interests among Tory MPs who could make life difficult for the Government.
These are, first, not so much the Spartans as a handful of Tory MPs who prize “our precious Union” – rightly so. And, second, another scattering, some of whom have been deprived of the whip, who are hostile to the Prime Minister at best, and to the referendum result at worst.
We believe that both shoud give Johnson the benefit of the doubt tomorrow. There are three main reasons why.
First, neither group has to make a final decision on the day. Like most of the rest of us, they haven’t seen a legal text.
So to our felllow Unionists, we say: wait and see what it actually says about Northern Ireland, and keep talking and listening to the DUP, with whose agonies their confidence and supply partners should identity.
And to the 21 and their allies, we say: most of you have argued all along that your intention is not to block Brexit, but a No Deal Brexit. Now that the Prime Minister has a deal, you’ve no excuse but to deliver on that principle.
And by tthe way, today’s contretemps over whether No Deal could happen at the end of transition is the reddest of red herrings. Yes, of course No Deal will be “on the table”. It must be so because extensions always come up against No Deal when they run out: in that sense, No Deal is the table. But, no, Boris Johnson has proved beyond any doubt this week that he wants a deal. So it’s fruitless to quarrel about whether or not he will get one after transition.
Which takes us to our second reason.
Neither of these interest groups trusts Boris Johnson. To which we say: you don’t have to, at least not tomorrow. All you need to do is give him the benefit of the doubt for a day. Which he has every right to ask for. Consider the record. He was told that if he committed to No Deal if necessary the EU wouldn’t budge. That it would never, ever approve changes to the Withdrawal Agreemen. That he was secretly commited to No Deal. That everything he does in the Commons and the courts turns to dust.
All this was the consenus of the punditocracy. Bits of it were shared even by this site. And the Prime Minister has proved the whole lot of us comprehensively wrong. It has re-opened the Withdrawal Agreement. It has retreated on trying to keep the whole UK in the Customs Union. Above all, Johnson has shown that he really does want a deal – and so the 21 resigned for nothing. As for everything he does withering to ashes, consider the polls. Theresa May wrecked the Party’s ratings. Johnson has restored them.
Where she was a cowed, wretched communicator,, Johnson is “the greatest showman”. Nobody does it better. Tory MPs winkled her out and helped put him in precisely because they want charisma, derring-do, resourcefulness – and a leader who can it off on the doorsteps. This site backed him early on “a wing and prayer”, and he is delivering for Tory MPs in spades. The least its MPs can do is deliver for him tomorrow.
This points to our third, last reason.
Maybe they believe that the best course is to reject this new deal out of hand, and take a punt on a general election or a second referendum – in the wake of rebuffing their leader. Are they really sure that this is what voters want? Might either pave the way for a resurgent Nigel Farage, a Labour Government propped up by the SNP, and a second referendum on Scottish independence? Do eirher group really want to take the chance that it wouldn’t?
Lord Ashcroft’s recent polling suggests that voters agree with Johnson’s instinct: “let’s get Brexit done”. If Conservative MPs don’t want to give him the benefit of rhe doubt, very many of them do. Public and party opimion is moving on. Our survey today shows that almost nine in ten Party menbers back Johnson’s deal. That’s as thumping a verdict as they have ever delivered on anything.
And so it is that we ask fellow Unionists and rhe 21 alike to recognise this change in the weather, give the Prime Minister that benefit of the doubt tomorrow, prepare their questions about his deal for when the Bill which sets it out appears, and recognise that the time has come to move on.
Were this not a great country with a brilliant future, Angela Merkel would not be worrying that Britain, if it takes a new road to national independence, will out-compete and outshine the EU it is leaving. Let the Prime Minister have the last word, from the very day he took office: “those who bet against Britain are going to lose their shirts”.
Those words should make every Tory worth the name want to stand on a chair, and cheer. Fellow Unionists, the 21, troubled Spartans, sullen Remainers – suck this deal and see; save your amendments for the Bill; vote with Johnson tomorrow. Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile.
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Author: Paul Goodman
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