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Leave MPs must hold their nerve

Edward Cree
March 25, 2019

Edward Cree calls on Leave-backing MPs to hold their nerve and take a hard-line position, arguing that their backstop is the electorate.

If the Government manages to get a third Meaningful Vote past the Speaker, many formerly-stout Leavers have been saying that Brexiteer MPs should vote in its favour, on the theory that a bad Brexit is better than no Brexit at all. Everyone from David Davis to Guido Fawkes seems to have converted to backing the 'deal'. Putting aside the (strong) argument that the Withdrawal Agreement itself is no Brexit either (see e.g. Martin Howe QC's recent analysis on BrexitCentral), it is perhaps worth considering what would be the result if Parliament were to stop Brexit completely.

Whether the Brexiteer vote is the 52 per cent of the referendum or the 44 per cent who supported No Deal (as against 30 per cent for the Deal) in a recent opinion poll, it is clear that it is a significant voting bloc, much bigger than that which elected any recent Government (unless one counts the 2010 coalition, which combined a 36 per cent and a 23 per cent party). Moreover, many moderate Remainers will have seen how the absolutist fervour of Remain MPs has led them to break manifesto promises and tear up the British constitution; this is unlikely to endear them to anyone but the #FBPE crowd.

Thus, in the next General Election (whenever that may prove to be — and the current state of the Government suggests it may not be far off), a combination of the Leave vote and the 'trust' vote will likely deliver a Commons much more representative of the nation's views; if the current Parliament stops Brexit, the next will just start it again. 'No Brexit' might seem like an effective threat, but it won't stick. Leave-supporting MPs should hold fast, and not be complicit in voting either for a delay or for May's deal; especially not the latter, as that (owing to its lack of an escape clause) will stick. When the election comes (and it may be worth their while to accelerate that process with a no-confidence motion in the Commons), they will keep their seats, but the Remainers (both Tory and Labour) largely won't.

It is easy to say that nothing will change, that the bulk of the country will carry on voting for the proverbial donkey in the appropriately coloured rosette, but I do not believe this. The way the current crop of MPs have handled Brexit, at once incompetent and duplicitous, has (I would argue) made the scales at last fall from the eyes of the electorate, who will no longer trust party place-men. Indeed, if not merely backbenchers but Ministers repudiate manifesto pledges with impunity, why should the party's selection carry any weight with voters? Besides, many Conservative activists simply will not turn out to canvass for a Remainer candidate.

Conversely, Brexiteer MPs should not fear that the same tide would sweep them out; the public are not too daft to tell the difference between an MP loyal to his voters and an MP loyal only to his party. As Rees-Mogg never tires of pointing out, the 'hardliner rebel extremists' in the ERG are the ones supporting the policy that was in their manifesto. It is those who waver, and who ultimately lend their support to the pig's-ear of a Withdrawal Agreement, who are most at risk of being lumped in with the traitors by the electorate.

What, then, of party loyalty? How can the ERGers and others justify a strategy that relies on the near wiping-out of the Tory and Labour parliamentary parties? Beside the obvious clichés about 'putting Party before country', it is also worth noting that the leadership have (in both cases) already betrayed the principles of their respective Parties; when the HQ is disloyal towards the MPs, how can it demand loyalty in return?

Will Brexiteers vote as a bloc? There are two dangers here: one is that Leavers, thoroughly disenchanted with politics, will stay at home on polling day. To avoid this a positive and upbeat campaign is needed: "now is the time to save democracy", rather than "the Westminster traitors have killed our cherished Brexit". The other worry is that candidates from Ukip, Farage's new Brexit Party and independents might stand against one another, splitting the Leave vote in many constituencies. Part of the trouble here is that the Brexit Party haven't really made clear either their positions on other issues (if any) or their governance model, which may make potential members wary. However I don't think there will be too much friendly-fire between Ukip and the Brexit Party, since they (and also the SDP) are likely to find appeal in very different parts of the country — the SDP are centre-left, while Farage's free-market inclinations are likely to set the Brexit Party's direction, and Ukip seem to have gone down a route of social conservatism. Of course some sort of electoral pact would be welcome, and I hope none of them would run against true-blue ERGers like JRM or Sir John Redwood.

Leave-backing MPs should hold their nerve and take a hard-line position, for their backstop is the electorate. Too many have looked upon the referendum result as some unrepeatable miracle, that must be turned into something bankable for fear of never getting another chance. But those 17.4 million Leave voters didn't just vanish on June 24th.

Edward is a software engineer from Cambridge. His pastimes include cricket and playing the French horn.
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