Conor Burns MP: It is time to get back on track


Two of Conservative Way Forward’s nine principles are ‘Democracy’ and ‘Nationhood’.

At no time since our foundation in 1991 have those two principles coincided and combined than in the 2016 referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union.

Parliament overwhelmingly voted to pass the decision to the British people and both sides pledged to respect and implement the decision they took. Whatever the contemporary revisionism anyone involved in the thick of that campaign can remember clearly both sides telling the people that a vote to Leave meant leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union.

However, the tension was always clear. A Parliament dominated by remain supporting voices was always going to struggle to embrace the decision to leave with any enthusiasm let alone grace. With each month putting distance from the immediacy of that vote remain voices have tried to find ways to unwind and diminish the clarity of the vote.

Remain ultras have become expert in telling us what motivated Leave voters. They tell us what leave voters were not voting to do.  At its worst some suggest the people did not have the capacity to understand the arguments and too many were motived by a malign view of immigration or a nostalgia for a bygone age.

In fact, expert analysis not least by the respected academic Professor Matthew Goodwin shows they knew exactly what they were voting to do.  In short, they were, in the slogan of the Leave campaign, voting to ‘take back control’. Control of our laws, borders, money and trade.

Many of us were encouraged and reassured in equal measure by the Prime Minister’s speeches at Mansion House and Lancaster House where she outlined the approach of the Government she leads to the negotiations to forge a new relationship with the EU from outside the EU. We would end the jurisdiction of the European Court, stop making vast contributions to the EU budget, negotiate new international trade agreements from outside the Custom’s Union and leave the Single Market.

Sadly, and suddenly this approach was abandoned at the Cabinet away day at Chequers with proposals which would leave our country and a supplicant rule taker from Brussels. 

This was presented as a ‘deal’.  It was a deal only in the sense that those members of the cabinet who did not resign in protest signed up to it.  However, the reality is that it is not a deal but an offer to the EU which will, inevitably, be watered down when it encounters contact with the Commission’s negotiating machine.

Despite great efforts to sell this proposal to the party and the country party members and the public alike can see it for what it is: something that does not respect the referendum.

It is leaving only in the most technical, legal and minimalist way possible. It bares true fidelity with the Blairite use of language to mean something it doesn’t. The public have seen right through it.

It is time to change course and return to the policy that will deliver what Britain voted for.  We want not to change Prime Minister but the Prime Minister’s policy.  We urge her to go back to the agenda that she outlined in her Mansion House and Lancaster House speeches.  It was this policy that Conservatives have been loyally upholding since she outlined it.  We still support it. We want her to also.

It is time to get back on track.  If that does not happen it is not too late to save Brexit. The opportunities of Brexit remain immense. Instead of blowing on the embers of Project Fear it is now time for the Government to show courage and resolve.  With clarity and purpose, we can galvanise the British people and properly deliver on the verdict of the largest democratic exercise our country has ever seen.