The people voted to leave. The Parliament agreed with them, but a significant minority set about thwarting it. The Speaker colluded with the Remainers, as did the House of Lords. The EU wanted us to stay. So we had six interest groups with sometimes competing, sometimes coincidental, sometimes colliding aims and methods of achieving them. The House of Commons more or less accurately reflects the views of the people - split down the middle, although Labour MPs from Leave constituencies are conflicted, as are Tories from Remain patches. (Zac Goldsmith is a good example.) All of that being the case, it seems to me hardly surprising that no Deal has been agreed. But I would go further and say that from the beginning there was no possibility that any such deal could be agreed.
The arrogance of President Macron - making it plain that there could be no discussion over the poisonous Northern Irish Backstop proposals – simply means that any Deal is impossible. Apart from anything else the DUP will not support any arrangement which has the Backstop in it; nor will true Brexiteers; nor perversely will Remainers who want to kibosh the whole thing. The Deal has been voted down on three separate occasions, the first of which was the largest defeat of any Government in history. Which part of that do the Europeans not understand? President Macron: If you will not reconsider the Backstop, then we are leaving on 31 October without one; without a deal and pocketing the £39 Billion as well.
A high-level Commission of transport and borders experts sat before the Summer, chaired by Greg Hands and Nicki Morgan. They produced a carefully considered 250-page solution to the Northern Irish border problem. It’s pretty technical - all to do with electronic number plate recognition and the like. I won’t bore you with it here. The reality is that goods or people illegally brought over the Irish Border, or over any border by any means, will remain black market goods and illegal immigrants. You don’t need Customs Officers peering into the backs of lorries these days. It is all done electronically; it is intelligence-driven; and their main concern is illegal tobacco, alcohol, people, and bush meat. In that respect the Irish border is no different to any other border. These are commodities we do not want in this country and there are well established ways of stopping them.
So, I can see no alternative but a straightforward departure on 31 October. It is true that we will not have a signed, sealed and delivered ‘Deal’ which bureaucrats would no doubt like. But I have every confidence that it would take a very short time for intelligent civil servants to get together and work out bilateral deals on a whole host of subjects with our European neighbours and others. After all most of these matters- the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice-versa, the carriage of drugs over borders, and a host of detailed and technical matters were all agreed in the 750-page Withdrawal Agreement. Most of that stuff is easily transported into Bi-lateral agreements instead of the multinational catch-all which they had set out to create.
The fact is that there cannot be a deal because of the multitude of interests engaged in the matter; but in reality, we really do not need one. The people voted to leave. That is what we must now do, Deal or no Deal.
People occasionally enquire why I do not spend more Column inches telling everyone what I have been doing on local issues. And there’s plenty I could tell, especially during the long Summer Recess when I have been active in all sorts of local spheres - law and order, healthcare, industrial planning, environment and farming and military related matters amongst many others. I take August off from surgeries (although I unusually had two last week), but the massive email postbag needs to be kept up to date. So aside from a few long weekends (all of our friends’ children seem to be having weddings this year), I am pretty much in and around Wiltshire ‘doing local stuff.’
Despite that, there are several reasons why I do not bang on about it too much. First, it could easily become a form of empty bragging. “Here is the meeting I had with a local business. That proves that I am fully up to date on the economy. Here’s my visit to the GP’s surgery to show my NHS credentials, and here is me up to my knees in a farmer’s field to demonstrate my rural credibility.” Something a bit distasteful about all of that. (I admit that I too may have been guilty of it in previous times.)
Second, too much emphasis on truly local issues (and I am always delighted to take them up with the appropriate authority whether that be Wiltshire Council, the Police or others locally), tends to suggest that my job is to represent Westminster in Wiltshire. It is of course the other way around. My job is in Westminster and crucially importantly in Whitehall taking up constituents’ concerns with Ministers and in Parliament, which I am never slow to do.
Incidentally, it is always worth remembering that I am a Representative, not a Delegate. That means that I cannot argue a case in Parliament with which I do not agree. Some Remainers in particular claim that I ‘do not represent them.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. I do indeed represent them and all 70,000 or so voters in North Wiltshire of all political persuasions and none. I represent them even if I do not agree with them on a particular issue. Their remedy will be in the ballot box, when my majority will no doubt reflect the degree to which I have fairly represented the majority of my constituents’ views on a whole spectrum of matters. Get it consistently wrong, and the MP loses his seat. That is the beauty of the First Past the Post electoral system.
Third, I am sworn to secrecy with regard to constituency cases in exactly the same way as a lawyer or a doctor. I may well be working hard on behalf of particular constituents; but they would not thank me for broadcasting it in my weekly email.
And fourth, at a time like this, with momentous events occurring in Parliament and internationally, with the possibility of a General Election, a new PM and Administration, with international events in crisis in so many ways; with all that happening, most constituent readers might not thank me for a personalised diatribe about how busy I have been locally.
Having said all of that, I am very keen indeed to get Brexit and its associated issues out of the way so that we can indeed start to re-focus on the better running of the country. Like most people, I very much look forward to living in less exciting times, and promise to reflect that happy day in my weekly scribblings.
Lib Dem triumphalists (they are very good at it) will no doubt hail their victory in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election as (yet another) indicator of their imminent resurgence. (‘Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’ as David Steel so memorably enjoined his activists at the 1981 Conference.) However, the fact is that by persuading the Greens, Plaid Cymru and others not to put up candidates, they had a unified “Remainer” platform calling for an end to Brexit. In the end their combined vote was just under 14,000; the combined Brexit vote some 16,000. The By-election demonstrates that those who voted to leave the EU (52% in this constituency as elsewhere) stuck by their principles; but that we must not allow the Brexit vote to be split in the way it was.
The polls, similarly, are suddenly looking much healthier for the Tories and for Boris. The people just want us to get on with it now, and leave no later than 31 October. They are also enthused and excited by the youthful new government Boris has gathered around himself. The Ministerial age profile is one element which few commentators seem to have noticed. They are nearly all in their mid-forties, a few younger, a handful older. The last remaining Minister from my (1997) intake is Nick Gibb, the schools minister, who is a remarkable survivor. So it’s a dynamic youthful administration headed by Boris, which is just what we need at a time like this.
The rest of us are distinguished (or less so) backbenchers, on Select Committees, offering sage advice, chairing things. Just generally being the Great and the Good. And it is right that we honour our elders too. I was delighted that my friend and constituent, Sir Roger Scruton, has now been wholly exonerated of the baseless allegations of racism and worse (although, of course, I am sad that his oppo James Brokenshire has been fired from the Government. A degree of righteous irony somewhere there methinks.) And I am similarly delighted that Salisbury retiree Sir Edward Heath has had his posthumous name cleared by the prosecution of the mad conspiracy paedophile, ‘Nick.’ I hope that the last Chief Constable of Wiltshire (currently suspended) has some sympathy with James Brokenshire. You should be careful which bandwagon you jump onto and avoid maligning people who are, in reality, a great deal better than you are.
“Cool beneath a garden awning Mrs Fairclough, sipping tea and raising large long-distance glasses as the little sharpie passes, sighs our sailor girl to see…..Evening Light will bring the water, Day-long sun will burst the bud. Clemency, The General’s daughter will return upon the flood. But the older woman only, knows the ebb-tide leaves her lonely, with the shining fields of mud.” (Betjeman: Youth and Age on Beaulieu Water.)
A Marxist, an IRA supporter and a Republican walk into a pub. The barman asks: “What can I get you, Mr Corbyn?”
It should perhaps not surprise us to hear that other Marxist-Leninist hater of the Union (if lover of the Trade Union), John McDonnell, tell the Edinburgh Festival, that he “would not stop a second Scottish Independence Referendum”, thereby throwing Scottish Labour who have fought so passionately against any such thing, into a kilt-whirling, caber-tossing, haggis-mangling fury.
But was it not even more extraordinary to hear him announce that in the event of a No-Confidence motion being passed in early September (and the Labour whips have cancelled all ‘slips’ which allow MPs to be absent from Parliament for the first week back), he would “send Jeremy Corbyn off to Buckingham Palace in a black cab to tell the Queen that we are taking control of the Government.” We know that he is a supporter of coups in assorted dodgy republics around the world; but was it not astonishing to hear the Shadow Chancellor, a leading member of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to give them their proper title, propose such a thing in our great democratic law-abiding country?
The Constitutional reality is that in the event of losing a No Confidence vote in September, Boris would then have two weeks in which to form a new Government. There is, I think a very good chance that even if one or two Tories, like Dominic Grieve, for example, had voted against their own Government on the first occasion, that they would swing round behind us the second time around. There are also 20 or 30 Labour MPs who support Brexit, and who might at very least abstain rather than vote with Corbyn.
At all events, the precedent of James Callaghan’s loss of office after a no confidence motion in 1979 (the only other occasion on which such a thing has occurred) is that he remained PM for about a month until the new Government was formed. That, indeed, is what always happens at a General Election. So I have every confidence that Mr Corbyn’s black cab would be turned away at the gates of Buckingham Palace.
By far the most likely outcome of any such no confidence motion after a failure by the EU to agree to new negotiations, would surely be an Election. My own guess would be that it will be called after the Party Conferences in early October with the actual election on my birthday, 7th November, neatly avoiding Remembrance Sunday the following weekend. The campaign would therefore straddle the 31 October Brexit day, thereby emasculating the Brexit Party. (We all want to leave with a Deal- but no negotiation in the history of negotiations has ever succeeded with no option to walk away from it.)
And after all, if Mr Corbyn is afraid that we might leave the EU during a General Election campaign, then he has a very straightforward way of preventing it – by not calling for a Vote of no Confidence. Simples.
You heard it here first! These are the dog days of Summer, when analysts and journalists allow their minds to wander. The reality may be quite different. But there’s something rather neat about it. We shall see….
It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what Boris has got. Stardust? Infectious enthusiasm? Unshakeable optimism? Clear determination to get us out of the EU and launch a phenomenal swathe of new domestic policy. Is he going somewhere in a hurry? Perhaps all of the above. What is certain is that there is a new atmosphere across Whitehall and Westminster, and I think increasingly spreading across the whole country if the newspaper front pages are anything to go by.
There’s an excitement, an optimism, a determination to get things done which has been notably absent for three years. We have been bogged down in the Slough of Despond, and all of a sudden, we are freed to let our imaginations and our ambitions soar into the firmament. (Getting a bit poetic. What about some detail? )
Well, Boris’s inspirational speech on the steps of Downing Street, and his positively Churchillian oratory in the Commons, was stuffed to the gunwales with detail - an Australian type points-based immigration system, 20,000 more police on the beat, action to beat the housing crisis and revive our high streets; and so much more. Never can an incoming Administration have had such a swathe of radical and exciting proposals. And the radical reshuffle sent a powerful message to the people and to the EU that he means business. “If you’ve bet against the British people, you’ll lose your shirt.” The gloomsters, doomsters and naysayers have met their match, and if anyone can, Boris will deliver Brexit, and then drive forward the domestic agenda in the dramatic way he laid out. Boris is a true Leader. It may well be a bit of a rollercoaster ride. But the sheer feeling of excitement, confidence, overwhelming optimism, is a very welcome change to the last three years of gloom.
I found myself in a studio broadcasting a six-minute interview on National American radio. The interviewer was infected by the dreary pessimism of some UK commentators. It was great to be able to voice my enthusiasm and optimism for the future, which I have not truly been able to do for some time. When I was a child sixty or so years ago I had the privilege of sitting in on that great American broadcaster Lowell Thomas as he spoke in his daily coast-to-coast news broadcast. On his instruction, my two brothers and I chimed “Good evening, Everybody”, which was Lowell’s trademark intro. Broadcasting to 250 million people is a bit different to my usual slot on BBC Radio Wiltshire (which I love).
The House has risen for the Summer Recess, and I am back in Wiltshire with a spring in my step. There are exciting times to come, and I look forward greatly to playing my little part in it. The guts and enthusiasm, the optimism of Boris Johnson, will, I very much hope, be an inspiration to us all.
© 2018 James Gray MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA