Every issue Tory Brexiteers said they would stand firm on is now being given up. The result will be electoral punishment
What on earth has happened to the Eurosceptics in Theresa May’s cabinet? In what can only be called the ultimate sell-out, these once-brave men and women who backed the Leave campaign and have been seen as the champions of the 17.4m people who voted for Brexit have collapsed like a row of dominoes.
Over the course of the last few months we have seen these senior politicians shift their position significantly on virtually every important issue. For example, once they balked at the idea of a transition deal. Yet now, they seem happy to accept that we should be locked into such an arrangement for at least two years and probably (I am willing to bet) up until the next general election, which is scheduled for 2022.
And whereas previously they said that any future jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would be unacceptable, now they are prepared to accept its authority at least for the duration of a transition deal and maybe even longer.
Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the sell-outs described above now seem willing to accept that Britain should give a gargantuan sum of money – potentially £40 billion – to the European Union, allegedly to gain some sort of tariff free access to the single market. It is simply monstrous that these funds, which could and should be spent constructively in the UK, are instead being made ready to hand over to Brussels. Isn’t this nothing more than a filthy bribe?
The lack of spirit shown by the Eurosceptic wing of the Cabinet, and its refusal to stand its ground, is profoundly depressing and deeply humiliating. It is also totally unnecessary.
I have seen this sort of acquiescence before and I know what lies behind it: self-interest.
During the Maastricht debates of the 1990s and on the subsequent confidence motion that John Major put before the House of Commons, the argument was advanced that the Conservative Party must be united. Unless the party stayed together, it was suggested, Labour would find its way into Downing Street. In other words then, as now, the party was deemed more important than the country.
Well, we all know what happened to Major in 1997. He was obliterated at the polls. Labour got in and kept the Tories out for 13 years. The disaster that was predicted came true – despite Major’s misguided efforts to focus on his navel, as it were.
But in the very different world of 2017, I wonder whether the Tories’ desperate belief in putting party first really will succeed in saving it from Corbyn and Labour.
Surely the pressing question the Tories must ask themselves is: what is the prevarication, delay and surrender which grips the party doing to the Tory vote in the country? If it transpires that at the time of the next election the UK remains part of all of the EU’s programmes without being an official member of the EU, what would be the incentive to vote Tory? Many of those who backed the party before on the basis that it had promised to deliver a clean Brexit would surely be so unhappy they may not bother to vote at all. Others might be tempted to drift back to Ukip.
I believe that failure to deliver a clean Brexit will perhaps be the greatest help the Conservative Party can give to Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-Left socialist agenda. And while it’s true that Labour has significantly backtracked on its promises from the general election, the Tory party will lose whatever advantage it has if it is perceived to have done the same thing.
The mood that I detect around the country is not that Brexit voters are yet very angry, more that they are increasingly worried and cynical over whether the result of the referendum is going to be delivered to them. As each successive surrender is made, I can envisage the Tories saying “Trust us to take you out of the EU, we’re the party you need to vote for.” I suspect that if we come to that, millions of people will not believe them.
On several occasions since the summer I have warned of the great Brexit betrayal. It pains me to say it, but it seems Britain is still a long way from truly breaking free from the EU’s grip. And for electoral reasons, if nothing else, this should worry senior Tory politicians greatly.