As you are no doubt aware, last week Conservative Members of Parliament held a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. It was with a heavy heart and in sorrow not anger that I voted that I “did not have confidence” in the Prime Minister. This is a decision which has drawn both praise and criticism, and it is not one I reached lightly. I would like to explain why I felt it was necessary.
Although I did not vote for Theresa May in the leadership election of 2016, I was open minded about her premiership and had faith in her ‘Brexit means Brexit’ outlook following the EU referendum. I have often said and believe that being in the European Union is like being pregnant, you either are or you are not. There was a time when the Prime Minister agreed with this view, indeed in her 2017 Lancaster House speech, The Prime Minister stated we should be looking at ‘Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out. We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave.’
The Prime Minister also stated at Lancaster House ‘I know my emphasis on striking trade agreements with countries outside Europe has led to questions about whether Britain seeks to remain a member of the EU’s Customs Union. And it is true that full Customs Union membership prevents us from negotiating our own comprehensive trade deals.’and in addition she stated ‘I do not mean that we will seek some form of unlimited transitional status, in which we find ourselves stuck forever in some kind of permanent political purgatory. That would not be good for Britain, but nor do I believe it would be good for the EU.’
As soon as the Chequers proposals came out in the summer, I could see that the Prime Minister could not possibly deliver on her Lancaster House speech and we were heading for trouble. The DUP, who we rely on to deliver a majority in the House of Commons would never accept a deal that treated Northern Ireland differently. It was actually at this point that I put in a public letter of no confidence, not in the expectation of an immediate vote, but to register my disapproval of the proposals and their future pitfalls in the hope that the Prime Minister would change her policy. David Davis and Boris Johnson resigned on the same basis and in spite of this, the Prime Minister ploughed on.
On the basis of the Prime Minister’s own words, I cannot possibly sign up to a Withdrawal Agreement with a backstop that could well leave us in the permanent purgatory of vassal status, as a colony of the EU, taking rules from Brussels over which we have no say.
To reiterate this problem of the backstop, it would stop us from being able to strike trade deals with non-EU countries, as it would bar us from controlling our tariffs and regulations. Without control in these areas, we would be useless to any future prospective trading partners.
With regards to the UK-EU trading relationship, the backstop would create a climate which lends itself to continued EU belligerence. The EU would have no incentive to make concessions in future trade negotiations. Effectively keeping U.K. citizens as a captive market for overpriced EU goods for ever.
For months, I and colleagues have warned that this deal cannot get through the Commons and would leave a legacy to the Prime Minister’s successor in negotiations which is far worse than the one she inherited from David Cameron.
The weakness of our current position is a result of decisions made by the Prime Minister. From day one, I and many colleagues advised that we should be preparing for no deal and show the EU that we are serious about leaving without a deal, but would prefer to leave with one. Given the current difficulties in the Eurozone with slowing growth in the EU, we would have had a lot more leverage.
I was told when we started negotiations with the EU we were paying the so called “divorce bill” of £39bn for a free trade deal, under the deeply flawed Withdrawal Agreement we would actually be paying this huge amount of taxpayers money just to “talk about” a future trade deal !
Because of the errors she has made in the last two years, the EU are refusing to budge on the agreement despite the Prime Minister’s pleas. So faced with an unacceptable agreement, a Prime Minister who has failed to heed the advice of those who actually believe in Brexit, who the EU are no longer listening to and whose agreement will probably lose the support of the DUP without whom, we cannot pass legislation in Parliament. I decided I had no alternative but to register a vote of no confidence, and although the Prime Minister has won the motion, I am afraid that as far as the situation goes, nothing has changed.