Who is your favourite brave Remainer Conservative MP? Anna Soubry has to be near the top of the list, for having remarked before the referendum: ‘We are trusting the British people. We will go to the people, and let the people decide whether or not to stay within the EU.’ And then at about lunchtime on 24 June 2016 bravely insisting that we should take not the slightest bit of notice of what the British people had decided.
Or what about that brave no no-deal triumvirate of the early Victorian funeral directors ‘Hammond, Grieve and Gauke, for Exceptional Service in the Sad Event of Your Passing’, sunlight palely glinting on a cheap coffin lid? There’s them, then — and it’s hard to think of a politician who has more bravely tried to stop any real Brexit occurring than the Chancellor, although his fellow pall-bearer Dominic Grieve gave it a good shot.
My own favourite at the moment, though, is, of course, Nick Boles, who pirouetted out of the Conservative party on Monday with a flounce that would have done justice to a BBC weatherman. ‘Oh no, Nick, don’t go, come back…’ a dim-witted colleague cried, apparently in earnest — but Nick had gone, and let us all know of his wrath, his pique. ‘Mummy — MUMMY — they WON’T DO AS I TELL THEM.’ Boles is now sitting as a Progressive Conservative. What the hell is that when it’s at home? It makes about the same amount of sense as a Democratic Maoist or maybe a Flammable Fire Blanket.
But this is the problem: in what possible meaning of the word was Nick ever a Conservative? On what issues did he adopt a Conservative position? None that I can think of. Like far too many of his former party’s MPs, he is a straight down-the-line liberal (in the horrible modern sense of the word). If there were a few more Conservatives on the Conservative benches then the government wouldn’t have dreamed up a bill designed to inform infant school children about the undoubted joys of transgenderism, nor indeed voted for its passage by a huge majority.
I’m sure we all approve of Gramsci’s famous long march through the institutions, whereby facile and yet authoritarian liberal airheads have taken control of our media, judiciary, charities, teaching profession, universities etc, but they might at least have left the Conservative party alone. When was the last time this government did something actually, you know, Conservative?
Of course, we know where we are. Brexit has been handed over to an institution that is opposed to Brexit by a majority of more than two to one, so I’m not absolutely certain that, within this milieu, doing everything you possibly can to thwart the will of the people is necessarily brave. Especially not when there is a Speaker who wants to stop Brexit, a House of Lords that wants to stop Brexit and a broadcast media that wants to stop Brexit, all situated in a city that wishes to stop Brexit.
And yet the real problem came long before these hilarious indicative votes and the supposed transfer of power from the executive to the House. From the beginning, that canard ‘We must respect the will of the people’, as echoed by almost every member of the House, deliquesced into something very different, namely: ‘We must pretend to respect the will of the people while doing everything we can to get what we want, or as close to what we want as possible, while telling the thick northerners that we’re doing as they asked.’
We voted to leave the European Union — not part of the European Union. The MPs know this, but the notion of them abiding by the decision was never really possible: they drifted further and further away from that simple resolution as the weeks elapsed. But before that, almost immediately, the whole purpose of the exercise — to leave the European Union — became derailed by the Prime Minister’s immersion in the process of leaving, rather than leaving itself. And thus we had the frantic scurrying between Brussels and London and then back into the House to see which part of the process would least offend the two wings of her divided party. The process, then, became the whole point.
And so the longer the process goes on, the much more likely it is that we will have a Brexit in name only, or not at all, or a second referendum, which will be gerry-mandered to ensure that Remain wins. The process has allowed our MPs gradually to renege on their mandate, all the more so as the distance of time grows between 23 June 2016 and now.
This is one reason I have a sharp animus towards the European Research Group. Yes, they have tried to be principled. It is not that they are, as the ludicrous Boles suggested, not open to compromise: it is that they are sticking to the decision made by the British people. And yet it has been absolutely clear to me since the middle of December that ‘no deal’ was a chimera and that the best possible option for getting out was Theresa May’s admittedly hopeless deal, voted down now three times. Because every other possibility would mean a ‘softer’ Brexit, meaning effectively no Brexit at all. How could they not have understood that?
There is a case for saying that, given the paucity of May’s deal, we would be better off staying in. I see that. But for those who do want to leave somehow, May’s inept deal was better than all the other possible options. The ERG should have grasped this while there was still time. And yet there are still Leavers convinced that we are exiting with ‘no deal’ because that’s what the law says, and cheering every time an alternative bites the dust. No deal would be the best option. But it’s not going to happen, is it?