Our Prime Minister is made of the right stuff. A woman of substance. Her incredible resilience, fortitude, selflessness and sense of duty are an example to us all. They have also got us further in these negotiations than anyone else could ever have imagined. Of course, the deal is not perfect, any deal that you are negotiating with another party is bound to include compromises, but those who say that they will not support it and have a better solution have key questions to answer; will the deal they propose get through the House of Commons and will it meet the promises made prior to the referendum.
The PM has been fighting on all fronts; a minority government, an EU that doesn’t want us to leave (and leave the exit door ajar for others to follow), an economy which is highly dependent on supply chains developed over the last 45 years, the sensitivities of the island of Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement, the competing interests and commitments of leaving the single market, the customs union whilst avoiding a hard border in North Ireland, the DUP confidence and supply agreement, 20 ministerial resignations including four members of the cabinet, an opportunist opposition desperate to grab the levers of power and hard-line MPs on either side of the argument all against the backdrop of a salacious 24/7 media frenzy. And still she carries on.
I voted to remain but also voted in Parliament to hand the decision to the people. Leave won, but any government, any leader must govern the country with the whole nation in mind. Yet the nation is still divided, Parliament is divided, our Party is divided.
Despite all this, the PM has delivered a workable deal that will give us free, no-tariff, unlimited quota trade with the EU, minimal or zero frictions at the borders, complete control over immigration (for the first time in 45 years), no payment into the central EU budget, out of the common agricultural and fisheries policies, no ever closer union, no customs union and, therefore the ability to strike bilateral trade deals across the world and, crucially if we accept it, no disastrous general election or second referendum.
Details need to be agreed on free trade, which will be tricky. The more we diverge from the EU rules, the more frictions we will have at the borders. Northern Ireland has become the linchpin, totemic issue. We, quite rightly, insist that the deal must not threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom, the EU takes a similar view to Ireland and the single market. Both sides believe that it is possible to resolve the issue by the end of 2020, but if we do not there are two options; make one, final, time-limited extension to the transition or we enter a temporary ‘backstop’.
This is probably now the single most important area of concern. The backstop means that we would stay in a ‘single customs territory’ until we find a way forward, but in the meantime, we would be in lockstep with the EU for trade in goods. Many are under the impression that we will never be able to leave the backstop as the EU has a veto over our departure, but this is not true. Article 170 of the 585-page Draft Withdrawal Agreement sets out the dispute settlement process, which provides that such an impasse would be resolved by means of independent arbitration. This is a perfectly sensible way to make sure both parties are treated fairly, and a sensible workable solution will mean that we can depart the backstop and move forward.
So, potentially, we are within sight of a deal, but getting a deal was, in many ways, the easy bit. The toughest part is getting Parliament to agree. This is within the gift of our parliamentary party. If we all support the PM, we will be able to escape the endless national obsession that Brexit has become. If not, the arguments will continue, perhaps endlessly. Let’s be clear, the alternatives that have been proposed, which might sound attractive to some, are not deliverable. ’Super Canada’ is not on offer from the EU for the whole of the UK, only for Great Britain. This would leave Northern Ireland out in the cold with disastrous consequences for our nation and this would not pass through the House. Parliamentary stalemate might well lead to a general election or second referendum, with unthinkable implications for our party and our country.
We have achieved so much over the last eight years, turning around our national finances from a £100bn day-to-day annual spending deficit to surplus for the first-time since 2001, a jobs miracle (3m more people in work and unemployment down 1.1m), real incomes growing at the fastest rate since 2005, a full-time worker on National Living Wage now £3,955 better off per annum, recession to fast growing economy and, at last, an end to austerity. I do not look at our departure from the EU through rose-tinted spectacles, but I do believe that there are huge opportunities for this country in the coming years and decades. Everything we have done has been based on the eternal Conservative principles of responsibility, prudence and hard work. But, there is another principle that is even more important; loyalty, and I, for one, in the difficult and turbulent days ahead, pledge mine to Theresa May.