Stourbridge News Column – Thursday 5th September
It has been an extraordinary week in Westminster. I expected difficult times but until midday on the first day back I had not considered the possibility that I and twenty colleagues would be expelled from the parliamentary Conservative party!
I am grateful to the News for giving me a chance to explain my actions. And I want to start by saying how deeply sorry I am that I was not able to represent the views of everyone in Stourbridge, including some of my closest friends and supporters, with the action I have taken this week.
I have done my best to represent the views of my constituents since the referendum. However there is considerable diversity of opinion locally. Stourbridge voted by 63% to leave. So, in spite of my personal view to the contrary, I have voted three times in Parliament to leave. But my regular contact with constituents reveals to me that approximately a third of people want to leave, deal or no deal. This view is strongly held, but it does not amount to a majority.
I had wanted to give the PM until the third week of September (the 30 days he agreed in talks with Angela Merkel) to surprise us all with an alternative to the backstop, that would be negotiable with the EU. I was also hoping we would find a way of sitting through at least part of the conference recess (which is another three weeks out). However both these options were fatally undermined by the PM’s decision to prorogue Parliament for far longer than normal. This was a needless act of provocation which has the fingerprints of the PM’s disreputable chief advisor all over it.
I voted for a modest measure that requires the government to seek a three month delay until January 31st, unless the PM reaches a deal in principle with the EU OR gains the approval of Parliament to leaving without a deal, by October 19th. The PM claims that the likely removal of “no deal” from his negotiating plan weakens his bargaining position. This would be a persuasive argument (and I know a lot of people are indeed persuaded by it) were it not for the case that his position is already undermined by the totally unrealistic goal he has set of removing the so-called Irish backstop.
I am as certain as it is possible to be, that Ireland, and therefore the EU, will not give way on the backstop in its entirety. I took time to speak to various experts, including the ex Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the consensus was that at best the PM might, just might, get a time limit on the backstop. The setting of an unattainable objective, combined with the fact that there is zero evidence of any serious negotiations going on led me to the conclusion that the PM is far too relaxed about coming out without a deal, and that voting on the motion this week was probably the last chance to take action against a no deal outcome.
I am now pretty despairing about the state of my party nationally (not locally where Cllr Patrick Harley and his team are doing a very good job at running DMBC). The PM’s reckless judgement has resulted in him not just losing his first vote this week, but turning a majority of one in to a minority of 43. Furthermore, his personal mandate for being in power, rests on a vote among some 90,000 members of the Conservative Party, a third of which joined since the referendum, and who are far from representative of the country as a whole.