It is wrong to conclude that the woeful EU election results indicate the Tories must immediately get on with Brexit. The results certainly do not provide a democratic mandate for a No Deal departure. For the Conservative Party to survive as a credible political force, it must now recognise that leaving the EU without a Deal would be electoral suicide.
56% of UK voters in the EU elections supported parties who explicitly reject No Deal – LibDems, Greens, Labour, ChangeUK, SNP and Plaid Cymru. Excluding the Labour vote, 40% were clearly anti-Brexit. This is far more than the combined 35% for the Brexit Party and UKIP, which favour No Deal.
The failure to deliver Brexit is not the fault of Mrs. May. It is the fault of the Leave campaigners who had no plans for delivering the benefits of Brexit which they promised voters in 2016 and 2017. They still have no idea how to secure great new trade deals (or even keep those we already have), nor how to force the rest of the EU to offer us the benefits of free and frictionless trade without all the obligations of the Single Market. They cannot confirm how they will leave the Customs Union or Single Market without jeopardising the open Irish border.
The past three years’ attempts to find a ‘good’ Brexit outcome have proved impossible. Yet, most Tory leadership contenders are now so desperate to just ‘deliver’ Brexit, they seem to have lost touch with rational common sense.
Instead of admitting that leaving the EU after 40 years of inter-dependence has turned out to be far more complicated, costly and damaging than was ever explained to voters, most Tory leadership candidates suggest leaving by October 31st, deal or no deal.
Let’s imagine what would happen next with such a kamikaze approach.
The EU will not abandon the ‘backstop’ or re-open the Withdrawal Agreement – the new Parliament will hardly be sitting before end-October. Therefore, even if the UK Parliament agrees something, it will not get EU agreement. So we are heading for No Deal.
This means abandoning the peaceful co-operation, travel arrangements and security protection we have enjoyed for decades. It means leaving the multi-country agencies that look after our food, medical, chemical and nuclear safety. We will have to recreate these institutions ourselves, without the support of our partners. Everyone (even those promoting this outcome) agrees it will be damaging, although they claim they can manage any damage and the pain is worth the ‘prize’.
But the electorate will look for someone to blame for any problems that arise – and there will be many.
Clearly, Labour and all the parties who supported Remain or a second Referendum, will blame the ‘Tory’ Brexit. The Brexit party will blame the Conservatives’ failure to prepare properly for No Deal departure, rather than admitting the damage was inherent in a No Deal crashout.
What defence could the Tories muster against such criticisms?
They can hardly say they were just obeying voters’ instructions to deliver Brexit and blame the people! Especially as the 2016 Referendum campaigns did not mention leaving without a Deal and the 2017 Election Manifestos talked of aiming to leave with a deal. Indeed, EU elections show a majority against No Deal and recent opinion polls suggest the majority may no longer support leaving the EU.
So the Tories will bear the blame for any problems resulting from Brexit. The party’s support base could collapse. Businesses have warned of the consequences and been ignored. Manufacturing workers whose jobs disappear will not vote Conservative again. Moderate Tories will switch to parties who have been more honest about Brexit. The young will not forgive their loss of rights and freedoms.
Surely, the logical, practical way forward is to go back to the British people and consult again. Indeed, that is the only democratic way to proceed. If the majority do not seem to support No Deal, and the negotiated Deal is not supported by Parliament, there is no democratic mandate for Parliament to act on. We are stuck and time is running out, while the Brexit poison that has been seeping through our country for years continues to threaten our international reputation for stability.
The Tories’ new leader needs the courage to tell the country the truth: No Deal Brexit carries risks that have not been put to the electorate. Risks of manufacturing industry meltdown, undermining the Good Friday Agreement and the United Kingdom itself becoming disunited were not explained to the British people.
Instead of trying to ‘out-Brexit’ the Brexit Party, the Government must ask the British people whether they accept the risks of a No Deal departure or support revoking Article 50.
That is the choice our country now faces and it needs to be decided by the people, not by the Conservative party.