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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Comment"

Nick Hargrave: In an age of post-truth politics, moderate politicians must prepare to work across party lines

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

It’s a common trope that we live in an age of post-truth politics. It increasingly appears that politicians have impunity to say things that are either demonstrably false or – more often in the UK at least – promise a future that is not supported by a rational reading of the evidence at hand.

The EU referendum and the subsequent process after serve as good exhibits for the prosecution. The Leave side of the fence is probably the more egregious with the £350 million red bus, the promises that a free trade deal with the EU would be the easiest such undertaking ever and – most pressingly now – denunciations of those who suggest that a ‘No Deal’ Brexit would come with a cost.

The Remain side of the divide is not without fault either though; lest we forget the ‘punishment budget’ that never happened, the pre-referendum modelling on the impact of the vote that ludicrously assumed no policy response from the Bank of England – not to mention every piece of bad economic news now being held up as a ‘told you so’ with no examination of whether the real cause is Brexit or not.

We should not of course  hark back to a mythical golden era where those with power dispassionately handed down truth to the people. From the hagiographical Anglo Saxon Chronicle in the ninth century to the 1945 General Election campaign, where our wartime hero, Winston Churchill, said that a British Gestapo would be needed to implement Labour’s policies – politicians of the day have always presented their interpretation of the truth to try and win support.

It is all a matter of degrees. But nonetheless it does feel like something has changed for the worse in politics in recent years. Certainly since the extension of the franchise in the nineteenth century, I do not think there has been a period in modern British history where politicians pay such scant regard to objective evidence and where the general public are willing to suspend disbelief in response.

The causes for this are well-rehearsed enough; the explosion of the internet in the past 20 years that has given the charlatan and the populist an unvetted voice and forced ‘moderate’ politicians to engage in an arms race to catch up; a declining trust in traditional sources of authority because of the profound economic effects of the financial crisis, globalisation and automation; the exponential growth of data, meaning that it’s easier to build a surface argument no matter how flimsy; a news cycle that moves so quickly that the best and speediest rebuttal in the world still comes too late; an increasing divide on values which means people shut out information that they don’t want to hear.

Less well tested is how we might rectify the situation.

There are two options. We can accept that, short of banning the internet and censoring political discourse, there is very little we can do. We are at the mercy of events and will have to accept a mid twenty-first century characterised by demagogues winning elections and referendums, chaotic policy making, a gradual erosion of the global rules-based order – with evidence only coming back into vogue after a series of shocks and recessions that lead us to see the error of our ways.

There is another school of thought though, which I much prefer – if only because the alternative is unlikely to be peaceful or economically stable. While there is no silver bullet, there are certainly things we can and should do to raise the standard of political debate in this country.
First, we need better politicians who the public are willing to trust in a face-off with the charlatans of the hour. Part of this is about getting people who have genuinely achieved things outside of Westminster into the Commons, and speak with gravitas and knowledge of what the real world is like. We could frankly do with more Andy Streets and Geoffrey Cox’s going into the frontline.

But there is more to it than that. We should also be honest that self-defined moderate politicians of this era stick to the line too much, and are obsessed with repeating back what they think people want to hear. As someone who spent several years in the bowels of Downing Street and Conservative Campaign HQ, raised on a diet of Clinton 1992 and Blair 1997 as model campaigns, this has been a humbling and gradual realisation. Most effective public policy is difficult and involves trade-offs; campaigning is very different to governing.

There is no better illustration of this than the current mess we have reached in the implementation of Brexit where our political leaders were not honest about the compromises needed to give practical effect to the referendum result. The temptation to boil political communications down to a form of cereal marketing will always be there. But I suspect that future leaders who level that there are no moral absolutes or easy answers will do better than is commonly supposed; the electorate are many things but they are not stupid.

Second, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there needs to be greater regulation of the veracity of claims made by registered participants in political campaigns. There are important free speech considerations here and unregistered mendacious participants will still slip through the cracks online. But a more developed regulatory regime would nonetheless remind mainstream politicians that they should not stoop to this level.   One could, for example, trial a role for the Advertising Standards Authority – who currently cannot adjudicate complaints and impose sanctions on electoral material – in an upcoming campaign in the UK.

Finally, and perhaps a little uncomfortably, we have to get better at working on difficult issues across traditional party lines. If we are constantly saying the other side have nothing good to impart then there are consequences. The electorate do not know who to believe. They think everyone is as bad as each other. The door is opened to those who take the easy way out and propose mythical ‘unicorns’ rather than evidence-based solutions. Cross-party coalitions on issues such as fixing social care, an honest conversation about the right balance of tax and spend to fund twenty-first century public services – or dare I say it implementing a version of Brexit that respects the narrow mandate of the referendum – would lend credibility to viewpoints because they don’t look politically driven.

Some will of course cry ‘establishment stitch-up’ and ‘Westminster cartel at its best’. It will be the responsibility of the moderate politicians of the future to demonstrate that evidence, and developed understanding of the issues at hand, remain the most reliable route to improved living standards and a better tomorrow.

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Mohammed Amin: The Government should talk to the Muslim Council of Britain – though talking doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing

Mohammed Amin MBE is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was created after three years of community consultation in the 1990s, with the encouragement of John Major’s Government.

It was modelled on the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Accordingly, its members are other organisations (“affiliates”) and not individuals.

For most of the 1997-2010 Labour Government, relations between the MCB and the Government were reasonably good, albeit with some spectacular fallings out. Apart from the occasional contacts with Liberal Democrat ministers mentioned on the MCB’s website, the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition and the subsequent Conservative Government have studiously ignored the MCB. In my view, this is a mistake.

About the MCB

The MCB claims about 500 affiliated organisations. Its transparency was never great (e.g: no accounts on its website) and at some stage the list of local, regional and national affiliates the MCB used to publish on its website has disappeared.

There is no other Muslim organisation remotely approaching it in coverage. During the periods of falling out, the Labour Government regularly tried to “big up” other Muslim organisations as replacements for dialogue, but the exercise was always risible.

As explained in my website’s 2011 article “The Muslim Council of Britain’s Need for Constitutional Reform”, effective control of the MCB has always been held by a small number of organisations who act together. That article did not discuss ideology, but the organisations I listed were broadly intellectual followers of either Abul A’la Maududi or Hassan al-Banna (respectively founders of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood.)

From the beginning, the MCB has been dominated by Muslims of South Asian and Arab ethnicity, with relatively little participation by other ethnic groups even though they represent a growing (though still minority) proportion of British Muslims.

The MCB’s achievements

Despite always being desperately under-resourced, the MCB can be proud of many things. I will list just a few.

In the early days of Islamic finance in the UK, technical specialists who were also closely involved with the MCB played a major part in helping the Government to understand Islamic finance and how to remove obstacles to it in the UK.

Perhaps its greatest single achievement was the inclusion of a question about religion in the 2001, and subsequently 2011, census. Accordingly, policymakers have a good handle on the number of Muslims in the UK. Equivalent data does not exist in countries such as the USA or France, where one must depend on surveys that often produce wildly different results, or use estimates from immigration and ethnicity.

More recently, the MCB’s Miqdaad Versi has done an outstanding job tackling patently inaccurate media reporting about Muslims, despite operating on a shoestring. Visit My Mosque Day has been running for several years and is the kind of initiative that would not happen without an umbrella body to coordinate it.

The MCB’s failings

As a close observer of the MCB, I believe its fundamental problem is that it spends its time following rather than leading British Muslims and impairs its effectiveness by trying to keep the entire spectrum of British Muslims happy.

For example, the MCB’s objectives, set out in Clause 2 of its Constitution and the way it describes itself on its “About” page, are domestically focused. That is what one would expect, and its leadership has in the past told me the MCB avoids foreign issues. However, that is selective.

Using Google to search the MCB website for the word “Israel” returned 274 results, many of them highly critical. Conversely, a search for “Taliban” had only 14 results. All were about refuting claims that British Muslims supported the Taliban or were neutral references in extracts of other material. I could not find a single unequivocal condemnation of the Taliban. Nor do I recall ever seeing one in any MCB material.

On many issues of great importance to British Muslims, the MCB has nothing to say. For example, searching found nothing about the problem of Muslim religious marriages and divorces. There are only four occurrences of “nikah” (a religious marriage contract), none of which mentions the growing problem of “nikah only” relationships with no civil marriage, or the problems Muslim women have getting religious divorces.

In my view, the MCB’s greatest failure has been its consistent determination to ignore or downplay the religious motivation of terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda and of individual terrorists such as the 7/7 London bombers. It has consistently railed against the Prevent policy, but offered nothing useful to help address the problem of radicalisation – because, in my opinion, it is in denial about its reality.

The benefits of talking to the MCB

At present, apart from any “back channel” contacts that may or may not exist, the Government can only challenge the MCB on its failings via “megaphone diplomacy.” It really would be much better to do so face-to-face.

At the same time, the MCB is a meaningful conduit for the Government to learn about the views of its many affiliates. Also, the MCB does have some useful things to say, albeit interspersed with other things that are less useful. Ministers should quite capable of distinguishing between them.

Ignoring it does not help Government to achieve its own objectives. For example, just because the MCB is currently hopeless on radicalisation does not mean it cannot be encouraged to help in tackling the problem of Muslim religious marriages and divorces.

Full disclosure

From June 2008 to June 2010, I was an elected member of the MCB’s Central Working Committee and chairman of the MCB’s Business and Economics Committee, placing me on the periphery of the dozen or so “wider leadership team” although not one of the key officers. Since then, our relationship has been friendly but relatively distant (I get invited to their annual Muslim Leadership Dinner in what I suspect is the last wave of invitations) and I donate £100 p.a. to the MCB Charitable Foundation.

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Simon Allison: Parliament is deadlocked. Only the British people can now deliver a final say on May’s deal.

Simon Allison is founding member of Right to Vote, author of Brexit – a Betrayal of Conservatism? and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

Right to Vote, a new grouping of Conservative MPs and grassroots activists who are calling for the voters to be given a Final Say over the Brexit process, was launched this week. We’ve called it Right to Vote because we think that voting on the final outcome of the EU talks is the right thing for people to do and indeed, something that they should – and must – have a right to do.

There’s no question that people are bored to tears with hearing about Brexit, and sick and tired of politicians on all sides telling them half-truths about it – and in some cases, blatant untruths. To make matters worse, the people paid to solve the country’s problems, our MPs, have managed to get themselves into a state of total gridlock, in many cases just scoring political points while time ticks away on saving our future.

What people actually want is for our MPs to set out a clear way forward for the country. That means telling them the truth, however unpalatable and difficult that may be. In fact, if you look at the times when the Conservative Party has defied the odds to win elections, in 1979, 1992 and 2015, our success has been based on levelling with the people of the United Kingdom.

So: let’s face facts. The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal is dead. She is calling on MPs to unite around a new solution, but there’s no Commons majority for any form of Brexit – not for the Prime Minister’s deal, not for ‘no deal’ and not for a Norway-style arrangement. While many moderate Conservative MPs like the idea of a compromise based around some form of Customs Union or EEA/EFTA solution, they miss the fact that the reasons why the public didn’t swing behind Mrs May’s deal are the same reasons that they wouldn’t back that kind of compromise.

It would still leave us as a rule-taker not a rule-maker, leavs us paying £39 million without any guarantees about the final deal and we’d have to go on bended knee to persuade such global powerhouses as Norway and Liechtenstein to let us in. The whole thing would frankly be a humiliation for a world power like the UK. From a Party perspective, it opens up the prospect of internal war without end around the contents of a final trade deal, almost certainly dominating this Parliament and most probably ensuring a crushing defeat – even to Jeremy Corbyn – in 2022.

Instead, giving people a Final Say is a swift, fair and democratic solution to this sorry saga, allowing us to get back to meeting the challenges that in part fuelled the Brexit vote in the first place.

If you believe some on the Party’s far right, this makes us traitors and saboteurs, unrepresentative of true conservatism; many of the Conservative MPs supporting a Final Say are receiving threats of deselection by their constituency associations. But we must not confuse the anguish of hardened activists with the underlying views of the voters. Indeed, across all the seats that elected Conservative MPs at the last election, new research suggests that an average of 55.8 per cent of voters support a new public vote.

Indeed, if the Conservative Party is going to return to its election-winning positioning as the party of common sense, there are two key facts which it must recognise. First, that the Brexit side of this discussion, after nearly three years, can’t decide what Brexit means, making it somewhat difficult to implement and, second, that as of today Remain leads Leave by 12 per cent in the polls.

Against that background, to deny the electorate a say and, instead, delivering a Brexit that does not command their support would be a betrayal of the United Kingdom and a suicide mission for the Conservative Party. The right path for our country also happens to be right path for our Party.  We, as Conservatives, ought to lead the way in trusting the people with this – not to be forced in to doing so because there is nowhere else to turn.

The Right to Vote campaign has one clear aim: to secure a Final Say vote. This is about breaking the deadlock in Parliament. This is about securing consent for the next chapter in our great country. It is time to trust the people and let them really take back control.

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Dan Watkins: Six reasons why the Conservatives deserved to win that no confidence vote yesterday

Dan Watkins was a three-time Conservative Parliamentary Candidate in Tooting and now campaigns with Kent Conservatives.

Everything is dominated by Brexit at present, but behind the scenes the Government is still continuing to deliver the Conservative’s domestic policies, much to the benefit of the British people. So here are six reasons why the country should be positive that the Government survived the vote of no confidence.

Tackling the Deficit

We should never forget that when we came to power in 2010, the Government couldn’t afford to pay for its public services and was building up a colossal amount of debt which future generations would have to pay. Years of spending restraint, combined with healthy growth of the economy, mean that Britain’s deficit is less that a fifth of what it was and debt as a share of the economy is coming down every year.
While we remain in power, the public finances stay in balance, reducing debt and allowing us to spend less on interest and more on public services.

Improving School Standards

Through the past eight years we have been reforming teaching, boosting Academies and opening Free Schools. We know these reforms are working because school standards are getting better and better, as measured by Ofsted, as well as international league tables, which we are steadily climbing. This year will see more Free Schools open and more Academies created, ensuring more children go to outstanding schools and receive a world-class education.

Boosting NHS Funding

The NHS is a huge organisation with a huge budget. As the population gets older, the demands upon it increase and the only way we can continue to fund its expansion is by growing the economy and investing those extra tax receipts into it. We have just detailed our Long Term NHS Plan, but it requires an extra £20 billion pa and this is only possible to find if we keep growing the economy. Another Labour-led recession would stop this extra funding dead in its tracks.

Creating an Enterprise Economy

From the moment we took office in 2010, the Conservatives have been making Britain the most business-friendly economy in the world. We have made it easier to start a company and to employ staff, cut business taxes and invested in research and development to support our high growth sectors such as creative, life sciences, automotive and more. Britain has been assessed by Forbes as the best country in the world to start a business. Every year we remain in Government is another year when Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour can’t undo our good work.

Protecting the Environment

Less heralded than other areas perhaps, but the results of our policies in energy and the environment have yielded excellent results. Renewal energy has expanded dramatically, carbon emissions have been slashed, plastic pollution is being tackled with radical action, and animals at home and abroad have won new protections. Michael Gove and DEFRA have more initiatives underway this year which will ensure that we continue to lead the international community on animal welfare and cleaning the environment.

Helping People into Work

Work is the bedrock of living a fulfilling life and this Government has done more than any other to give more people the opportunity to work. While welfare reforms have ensured that work always pays, the National Living Wage ensures that work pays even more.
Record numbers of people have been lifted out of the lowest paid work and the evidence shows that policies like Universal Credit help many more long-term unemployed into jobs. We need to have fully rolled out and bedded-in these initiatives before Labour get to power, so that it is much harder for them to reverse them.

At the present time, it’s not hard to find reasons to be frustrated with the Government, and indeed Parliament more generally, but when we’re out on the doorsteps campaigning, let’s be clear that the Conservatives are still delivering for the British people.

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Stewart Jackson: Don’t be tempted to pivot to a customs union, Prime Minister – the consequences would be dire

Stewart Jackson was MP for Peterborough 2005-17 and Chief of Staff to David Davis 2017-18.

As expected, Jeremy Corbyn’s No Confidence motion tabled yesterday served to unify and focus the Conservative Party on the existential danger, not just to our party but to the whole country, of a red in tooth and claw Labour government. In that sense, it rather backfired.

Perversely, it has ramped up the pressure on Corbyn to enunciate a clearer position in response to the defeat of the Prime Minister’s unlamented Withdrawal Agreement, between the Europhile majority of his party pressing for extension or revocation of Article 50, a Norway model soft Brexit, or a second referendum, and the millions of Labour voters who supported Brexit. I cannot see that Corbyn will move much, because he still commands the trust and support of the Labour membership and influential figures like Len McCluskey and because he believes that the EU is a plutocratic capitalist cartel dedicated to neoliberalism and doing the bidding of rapacious multinationals – a view he’s held since about 1983.

Labour’s introspection has bought the Prime Minister some breathing space. Although as a result of John Bercow’s decision to disregard Commons precedent and rip up the rule book to allow the Remain ultras like Dominic Grieve to circumscribe the Government’s room for manoeuvre in last week’s business motion, she has only four more days to outline what her Plan B might be.

My own view is that her tenure is strictly time limited, but my instinct is that she probably has one more pivotal Commons vote left before the pressure from the 1922 Committee and the Cabinet for her to step aside and let another leader take over will become insurmountable.

She’s been lucky, too, this week with her Remain opponents. Remain true believers are as fractious and impatient as anyone else – witness the spat between Nick Boles and Grieve over which (wrecking) Bill to present in the Commons – Boles’s quirky EU Referendum (No2) Bill or Grieve’s second referendum Bill? It’s a microcosm of the fight between the Norway crowd and the ‘Peoples’ Vote’ (sic) supporters. Neither has or likely will have a majority in the House of Commons, and Boles’s effort seems to have blown up on the tarmac via a big raspberry from the Liaison Committee. Nevertheless, the aim of most of their advocates is to delay and then kill Brexit.

For all that, Theresa May would be wise to avoid jumping out of the frying pan of a calamitous Commons defeat into the fire of a full-blown Tory civil war. The lack of a clear policy position after Tuesday’s vote appears to have emboldened some of the Cabinet to disregard even further collective responsibility. They now argue – both in code (“reaching out to other parties”) and explicitly – for a deal with Labour, involving reneging on our explicit 2017 General Election manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union. Indeed, to the contrary, some ministers are wholeheartedly embracing the idea of one. This was always the position of people like Greg Clark and Philip Hammond, but they now feel they have license to sell this unappetising prospect in plain sight.

‘Pivoting’ to a customs union would be a very bad idea for a number of reasons. Labour have no coherent Brexit policy and the customs union demand is only the least worst part of an incredible smorgasbord of opportunistic waffle. The Opposition really isn’t interested in anything but precipitating division and open warfare in our party, and certainly not in developing a coherent and pluralistic policy which can pass the Commons. Secondly, a customs union as a discrete policy is a terrible idea, as consistently and eloquently argued by Greg Hands – primarily because it would undermine a key rationale by Leave voters for supporting Brexit, the aim of allowing the UK to strike new, lucrative global trade deals after our exit from the EU.

Most acutely, Conservative MPs should understand the peril of shredding a policy which the Prime Minister has publicly endorsed over 30 times, when faced with a Party membership and wider electorate warming to No Deal/WTO and still irked by the debacle of Chequers and the Withdrawal Agreement. A Party faithful willing to believe that we can still strike a Canada Plus style deal with the EU. And why wouldn’t they? This week David Davis, Dominic Raab, Arlene Foster and Peter Lilley launched A Better Deal, which offers a reasonable alternative strategy for the Prime Minister when she returns to Brussels in a few days’ time. Together with enhanced No Deal planning, it is at least as good as any other course of action, not least because it was the basis of the Prime Minister’s policy outlined at Lancaster House, Florence and Mansion House and at last year’s General Election.

Signing up to a Customs Union would be such an egregious capitulation that it would endanger our local government candidates in May, and were we foolish enough to extend Article 50 to necessitate by Treaty obligation participation in the EU Parliament elections (as Boles’s bill demands), it would invite a populist upsurge of unprecedented severity.

Conservative Associations are much less deferential, more activist, and frankly more Eurosceptic now, and they’d scarcely wear such a retreat from our solemn promises. MPs who supported it would struggle to justify their decision. Remember, recent polling shows that people’s attachment to getting Brexit comfortably outstrips their attachment to even the best and most diligent local MP, and to political parties generally.

Finally, it’s as well to consider Scotland as a terrifying morality tale. In 2010, Labour polled 42 per cent there and took 41 seats – most of them won very handily. Just five years later, motivated by bitter disappointment in the wake of a fractious and unpleasant referendum campaign and a feeling that “the Establishment” had cheated them of their dreams of self-government and independence, a significant bulk of their hitherto most loyal voters turned on their own party, leaving that party with just one seat and less than a quarter of the votes.

Couldn’t happen again? Don’t bet on it.

If May takes the path of least resistance by adopting a Customs Union post-Brexit to get any deal through the Commons, she risks not just a terrible party schism but electoral Armageddon.

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Jeremy Hunt: This deal is a compromise, but it honours the referendum result – and it must pass

Jeremy Hunt is Member of Parliament for South West Surrey, and Foreign Secretary.

For once the cliché is justified: today really is an historic day. The House of Commons is about to vote on an agreement that would change our national destiny and take Britain out of the European Union in just 73 days.

It took a remarkable sequence of events to get us to the verge of leaving the EU after 46 years. There was a referendum that most experts predicted would deliver a victory for Remain. There was an election that left us without a majority. Even so, we now have a 585-page Withdrawal Agreement, negotiated and concluded with 27 countries. It has compromises but not even the Prime Minister’s fiercest critics would doubt her dogged determination that has got us to this point.

But it is clear the opponents of Brexit are not giving up. On the face of it, all the cards are stacked against them. At the 2017 election both the two main parties pledged to leave the EU. They are up against a Government and a Prime Minister committed to delivering on this. And most importantly of all, those who want Brexit stopped are up against the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU, more than for any other cause or party in British history. Like many who campaigned to remain in the EU, that for me is the single biggest reason we must honour the mandate: as one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in the world it would be a devastating blow both to our national cohesion and our global reputation if the political class succeeded in unpicking what the people had told it to do.

It is of course perfectly principled to take a different view. But the effect of changing the parliamentary rules to prevent No Deal would – whether intended or not – also allow Parliament to stop Brexit altogether. Because you cannot just change the rules of Parliament on one specific issue: once the precedent has been set they can be changed on any issue.

This kind of asymmetric tactic to delaying or stopping Brexit would be significant for two other reasons: firstly because the most likely outcome would not be a decisive shift to a different kind of Brexit, rather a move to constitutional stalemate and Brexit paralysis. Businesses up and down the country desperate to plan would instead be condemned to months more uncertainty. But secondly – and much more profoundly – it would directly pit the will of Parliament against the will of the people.

We have never had a written constitution and that has given us admirable flexibility to move fast at crucial moments. But it has always depended on restraint from parliamentarians, recognising that our role is not to impose our will on the people but to remain faithful to our democratic mandate. After a referendum in which all major political parties promised to honour the result, failing to do so would lead to a potentially irreparable breach of trust.

So why vote for this deal? It has compromises and elements that make many people – myself included – frankly uncomfortable. Yet it does contain much that Leave voters were demanding: sovereign control over immigration, leaving the CAP and the CFP, no large annual membership fees, and only the most limited role for the European Court of Justice. At the same time, it protects businesses and jobs that depend on trade with the EU in the way any responsible government would obviously seek to do. And with skilful negotiation, an independent trade policy will be something we can achieve.

The risk is that by opposing it in the hope of something better, we end up with the worst possible outcome: no Brexit at all.

Why is that? Because those seeking to reverse the Brexit decision have a simple three part plan: defeat the Government in the meaningful vote; then use the deadlock to extend Article 50 and push for a second referendum. It is not scaremongering to point this out: the first part may happen tonight and then with the amendment planned by Dominic Grieve for later in the week Parliament could require the Government to adopt the second.

If Brexit were then to be reversed in a second referendum, how would we look the 52 per cent who supported Brexit in 2016 – and went on to vote Conservative in the 2017 General Election – in the face? They trusted us to deliver Brexit – and we would have failed.

I have many colleagues and friends whom I respect enormously who have taken an honourable decision to accept that risk, but I cannot. This is our moment to deliver on what the British people asked us to do and we should seize it.

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Guto Bebb: Conservative MPs’ opposition to this deal is about far more than just the backstop

Guto Bebb is MP for Aberconwy, and a former defence minister.

Two months have now passed since the Prime Minister published the Government’s Brexit deal. In that time, I’ve spoken to colleagues and constituents; to friends and family; and reached an unavoidable conclusion: this deal is not in our national interest.

Conservatives from John Redwood to John Major agree that this is a bad deal. Whilst much of this unhappiness has centred on the vexed question of the Irish border and the backstop, colleague after colleague has made it clear that this is a bad deal for Britain for reasons that go way beyond the backstop. Never mind the backstop, most of us think it’s a bad deal full stop.  I anticipate that the comments within the letter sent by the President of the European Council and European Commission, released this morning, will change little.

Steve Baker, deputy chair of the ERG, wrote last year about his opposition to the deal, “In the end, it’s not really about the backstop.” This is, by far, the majority position. In the People’s Vote campaign’s analysis of the public statements made by the 100-odd of us Conservative MPs who are against the deal, just 13 of the colleagues who made negative comments about the deal wrote that their opposition was predicated solely on the nature of the backstop.

The rest listed several reasons why the deal is unacceptable. Seventy-two colleagues cited that the deal does not meet the promises made in the 2016 referendum – nor come close to doing so. The British people were told that Brexit would allow them to “take back control”, yet this deal, as my colleague Sam Gyimah made clear, involves the UK surrendering our voice, our veto and our vote – likely for a period of time far longer than any backstop or transition period.

Forty-one colleagues wrote about the uncertainty that this deal entails. It settles nothing. It merely ties up the terms of our departure, leaving the UK to pay a £50 billion divorce bill while postponing the difficult decisions until after we are out and have given away our money. Our future relationship with the EU is sketched out in a vague ‘Political Declaration’, a short document which guarantees nothing and will result in many more years of arguments and disagreements with the EU and throughout this country. Successive governments will travel back and forth to Brussels struggling to make sense of a deal that makes no sense for Britain. It is a deal that heralds a new era of ‘Brexternity’.

It is also no surprise that our analysis found that many members of our party, the Conservative and Unionist Party, cannot vote for this deal that threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom. Again, it is not just the backstop that puts strain on the Union, it is the large swathes of the deal. The consequences of the agreement reached on fisheries, and the safeguards for Northern Irish economy but lacking elsewhere, will turbocharge calls for Scottish independence. Whilst at the moment there are majorities against Irish unification and Scottish independence, a poll by Deltapoll earlier this year found that there is a majority for Scottish independence and Irish unification if Brexit goes ahead.

The numbers of colleagues implacably opposed to the Prime Minister’s deal, and the sheer variety of reasons why, make it impossible to see how it can ever be passed. The country needs another route forward.

Our options are limited and not pretty. We could leave with no deal, which many colleagues, myself included, consider a form of ‘national suicide’ and simply will not let happen.

A Norway+ relationship in reality amounts to EU membership minus any control or influence – something nobody wants nor voted for.

Then there’s an unappealing, messy, Frankenstein customs union relationship suggested by the Labour Party.

Or, as I think is likely, if Parliament cannot find a majority for any of these options, and is unable to make a decision, we could agree to let the people decide. Given how far the reality of the Brexit options are from what people were promised in 2016, this would not be a democratic scandal as some suggest. Given gridlock in Parliament, it is a pragmatic solution to a constitutional, national crisis.

It might be politically uncomfortable to tell the people that we politicians have failed, but the public are not stupid, they have seen forging a successful Brexit is far harder than anyone could have anticipated. They have seen the limits of what type of exit deal can actually be negotiated. They have seen that Parliament and politicians simply cannot agree a way forward, and know that we cannot just crash out.  Many colleagues, backbenchers, ministers, and Cabinet ministers, are sympathetic to the idea of returning to the people. But there is a risk we end up in a second rate end state if they do not make themselves heard.

We have an impasse in Parliament, and will soon have a full blown national crisis, if members of Parliament, particularly on the Conservative side, do not provide the pragmatic, democratic solution of another referendum.

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Antoinette Sandbach: Lower bills, less waste and better health. Time to insulate UK homes.

Antoinette Sandbach is a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee 2015-2017, and is MP for Eddisbury.

Last year, unnecessary winter deaths topped 50,000 – and more than 15,000 of these are directly relatable to a cold home.

This figure is shameful, and represents a huge amount of suffering. It is also clearly avoidable. There can be no justification for cold homes in the UK, blighting the lives of the neediest in society and leading to knock-on effects that spread through the economy – from lost working days to hospital visits and tumbling morale.

Before fingers start to be pointed, we must be clear: this figure is not due to rising energy bills, which, on average, have fallen over the past decade. They are also declining as a percentage of household income, the latest Ofgem data shows, as energy-hungry appliances are replaced with low-power alternatives and inefficient gas boilers are upgraded to the latest technology.

But while our TVs, computers and fridges are costing less to run, we still waste a huge amount of energy from UK homes in the form of heat. This is one of the largest open goals in UK politics: the lack of measures to insulate our homes and slash how much energy is wasted from leaky windows and poorly insulated walls and roofs.

Since 2008, the Government has logged the energy efficiency of UK homes as they have been sold or built; a register of 16 million homes that cover close to 1.5 billion square meters of British soil. They make for unpleasant reading. Upwards of 11 million of these miss the EPC C rating, which should be the bare minimum for any home.

This isn’t just a problem with older homes, in 2017, the largest entry on the register was band D properties, while more than 1.1 million properties are F- or G-rated, from which heat will be pouring out. Unquestionably, the homes of the poorest are likely to be the least-well insulated.

In addition to costing more to run, wasting so much heat requires us to import more gas from overseas, as well as unnecessarily adding to national carbon emissions. Imagine another aspect of life that was this wasteful. Cars that had not improved fuel efficiency in years, or businesses choosing not to boost competitiveness by reducing energy costs. It just doesn’t make sense.

Poorly insulated homes are also not fit for the future, something that Government is more than aware of. The Clean Growth Strategy aims to upgrade as many homes as possible to EPC grade C by 2035, but, unfortunately, is light on detail about how we get there.

Luckily, enthusiasm on both benches should help them decide. Building on recently-passed legislation that will ensure rented homes are warmer, cheaper and more pleasant to live in, a bill is working its way through the house on the potential for technology to boost energy efficiency. UK companies are among the market leaders in developing low-carbon tech, including on innovative efficiency kit, but without a route to market many of them will continue to rely on sales overseas.

A much-needed inquiry from the BEIS committee into energy waste will inject expert opinion into the debate, throwing forward a host of policies that can help us slash energy waste across the nation.

Legislation to ensure that new homes are built to the highest possible standards must, surely, make sense. Opposition from the housebuilding oligopoly needs to be shouted down, with developers forced to build high quality homes that will be cheap to run for decades to come.

The failure of the last wide-reaching piece of efficiency legislation – the Coalition-introduced Green Deal – should not dissuade ministers from acting in this space. It won’t be difficult to get this right – ensuring that new homes are built to the highest standards and that homeowners are incentivised to upgrade windows and insulate lofts.

After all, less money spent on heating leaves more to pump into the economy; research has shown that every pound invested in energy efficiency will boost GDP by £3.20 as the country is left with more disposable income to spend on household bills, new clothes or weekends away.

Other countries manage to insulate their homes far better than we do; it is not right that Britain should fall behind on such a simple act. If we get this right – and there is no reason why we should not – morbid headlines about winter deaths will rightly become a thing of the past and we as a nation will be able to take pride in all of society living in high quality homes.

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Peter Bone: I helped move Cameron’s Government to deliver the referendum. And this deal doesn’t deliver on the result.

Peter Bone is a member of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, and is MP for Wellingborough.

All my political life, I have been campaigning to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union superstate. Quite simply, I believe that the United Kingdom should be a sovereign nation making its own decisions.

In 2011, I was behind the motion that we should have a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. This was opposed by David Cameron’s government and, winding up that debate, I suggested that MPs should put the country first and their Party second. The vote resulted in 81 Conservative MPs defying a strict three-line whip to support a referendum.

In 2015, with my colleagues and Parliamentary neighbours Philip Hollobone and Tom Pursglove, I held a ballot in North Northamptonshire to find out whether local people wanted to leave the EU. This was the biggest vote on the European issue since 1975, with 100,000 ballot papers distributed across Wellingborough, Kettering, Corby and East Northamptonshire. The result was that 81.1 per cent voted to leave.

In December of that year, along with Tom, I co-founded a non-party political Leave campaign – Grassroots Out. I travelled to every corner of the United Kingdom, speaking to people from all areas, ages and backgrounds. I held grassroots events in village halls and at street stalls. I addressed major rallies of thousands of people at venues in every part of our United Kingdom. I knocked on thousands of doors talking to people who were energised by this great democratic event.

On the 23rd of June 2016, the people of the United Kingdom voted by a substantial majority to leave the European Union.

Unfortunately, more than two years on from that great debate, the Prime Minister’s proposal does not deliver the Brexit that 17.4 million people voted for. Let us look at what people told me mattered to them.

First, they wanted an end to the free movement of people from the European Union. They thought it unfair that people from the EU could come to this country and enjoy the benefits of our public services when they had no connection with the United Kingdom, yet at the same time skilled workers, such as doctors, from outside the EU, couldn’t get in. They wanted to see a fair immigration policy based on merit not where you come from.

Theresa May claims that her deal ends free movement, but this is palpable nonsense. The Commons was promised an Immigration Bill more than a year ago. However, it was only last month that we got a White Paper on what might be in the Bill. If the government was planning to end free movement when we left the EU, we would have had such a Bill by now.

The non-binding political declaration, which is just a wish-list, talks about ending free movement, but of course we have no detail of our future trading relationship, and it is highly likely that the Government will trade off ending free movement for a trade deal. The one thing that is certain is the Prime Minister’s plan does not guarantee the ending of free movement.

Second, they wanted an end to billions and billions of pounds paid each and every year to the European Union by UK taxpayers. Last year, we gave the European Union a net £9 billion contribution.

Since we have been a part of the European project we have given a net subscription fee of over £210 billion. If that money had stayed in this country, we could have improved our public services, cut taxes and lowered national debt. This cost might not have been so bad if we had had a trading surplus with the European Union, but of course this is not the case: they sell £100 billion of goods more to us then we do them each year.

Under May’s plan we would pay a minimum amount of £39 billion to the EU for the transition. That equates to £60 million for each constituency in the country, just think what a difference that could make! However, the £39 billion is only the start. Her plans allow for a further extension of two years for the transition period which would cost a further £20 billion.

In addition, we don’t know how much we have to contribute each year in any future trading relationship. So, it is reasonable to expect that the Prime Minister’s plan will cost in excess of £60 billion. That is hardly stopping paying billions and billions of pounds each and every year to the European Union.

Third, they wanted us to make our own laws in our own country. Clearly, our citizens want to return control to Parliament. They want to elect their politicians to make laws which are in the interest of the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They also want the power to be able to throw out those politicians through the ballot box. Simply, they want sovereignty returned to our country. They are fed up with laws and regulations made by European bureaucrats who are not subject to scrutiny or to election by the people.

May’s plan would sign up to accepting laws made by the EU, with no say in making them. The worst part of this being that we have no unilateral right to end this arrangement, and we could become a permanent rule-taker, not rule-maker.

Fourth, they wanted us to be judged by our own judges, not by a foreign court, as our judicial system is the envy of the world. Our judges are of the highest integrity and calibre, and they make their decisions based on the law of the land and never for political reasons. Yet at the moment our Supreme Court is subservient to the European Court of Justice whose judges are appointed for political reasons. They have a long record of producing dubious decisions which seem to be based more on politics than the law. What the British people want is a set of properly qualified judges, solely interpreting the law of our land and making their decisions purely based on the evidence they have put before them. That is what we have with our judicial system and that is not what we have with the ECJ.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s plans would have us in a transition period for up to four years, during that period we will be subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice. What is worse, is that we will not have any say in how the laws are drawn up, and we will have no presence in the ECJ. Even after the implementation period, if the Northern Ireland backstop kicks in, we will still be subject to European rulings on vast swathes of the law and regulation that affect us. So clearly the May’s proposals do not allow for our own judges to judge our own laws.

The Prime Minister’s proposal might be the worst deal ever for this country. It is certainly not the Brexit that people voted for. As Bill Clinton might have said about Brexit: It’s the Sovereignty, Stupid!

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Owen Paterson: No Deal would put the people back in control.

Owen Paterson is a former Environment Secretary and former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He is MP for Shropshire North. He is Chairman of UK2020.

The EU question has always been about sovereignty.  It is about who governs the United Kingdom and how.  Parliament deliberately put the answer to this in the hands of the British people by passing the EU Referendum Act in 2015.  In 2016, the people gave their answer.  They wished, via democratically-elected Members of Parliament, to govern themselves.

The Withdrawal Agreement categorically fails to deliver that result.  Despite repeatedly ruling out membership of the Customs Union, the Prime Minister’s proposed “single customs territory” locks the UK into it in all but name.  The UK would be tied to EU rules on critical policy issues, with the European Court of Justice retaining the right to issue “binding rulings” on the interpretation of such rules and sanction the UK for non-compliance.

The Agreement is not even compatible with the EU (Withdrawal) Act passed earlier this year.  This Act repeals the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA) entirely from March 29 of this year.  Yet under the Prime Minister’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement, a version of the ECA will remain in place throughout the lengthy transition period.

The supine nature of the Withdrawals Agreement’s negotiation is fully revealed in its treatment of Northern Ireland.  The Backstop would keep Northern Ireland in the Customs Union and Single Market, creating a new political entity called “UK(NI)”.  Northern Ireland’s elected politicians would have no say over significant areas of this new entity’s policy (ironically, unlike those in Dublin); Northern Ireland’s constitutional status would be fundamentally altered in clear breach of the Belfast Agreement’s Principle of Consent, the requirement to consult the Northern Ireland Assembly and even the Acts of Union 1800.  With no unilateral right to end the arrangement, the UK could continue indefinitely as a permanent rule-taker, with no say as to how its rules are made – while paying £39 billion for the privilege.

None of these failures arise under World Trade Organisation terms.  The WTO has already confirmed that “nothing in WTO rules . . . forces anyone to put up border posts”, so there would be no “hard border”.  The jurisdiction of the ECJ would end and we would save ourselves £39 billion. The UK would be free to make its own laws, to be interpreted in our own courts.  We would take our independent seat on the WTO to work for free trade with allies across the world.

Perhaps the real reason for the Establishment hysteria surrounding a No Deal Brexit under WTO rules is that we actually would be leaving.  The other options now being floated – extending Article 50, a second referendum, or the subjugation demanded by the Withdrawal Agreement – are designed to hold the UK in the EU’s orbit in the hope that it may be sucked back in.  These options would completely fail to honour the biggest democratic verdict ever delivered in British history.

The optimal Brexit outcome remains a wide-ranging, zero-tariff Free Trade Agreement as offered repeatedly by Donald Tusk.  Such a deal can still be negotiated, but not by the end of March.  Having wasted so much time on the Withdrawal Agreement, leaving on WTO terms is now the only way to break free fully and build a more prosperous, independent future.

This article is adapted from a new Economists for Free Trade report: ‘No Deal is the Best Deal for Britain

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