Odd things, dreams. I woke up on Monday morning absolutely determined to back Graham Brady’s amendment to the debate on Tuesday. He called for the PM to return to Europe and demand a fundamental change to the Backstop arrangements, which was pretty much my own view. So I told the European Research Group via their WhatsApp, that that was what I was planning, and the whole world fell in on my head. I had phone calls from the very great, counter briefings, words of warning. I was one of only 15 people supporting the amendment; it was selling out; it could not get through; the DUP would not like it; we have an alternative plan etc.
But I ploughed ahead, seconded the Brady amendment, spoke at the ERG meeting in support of it (to a less than enthusiastic audience), did a bit of media and canvassed my friends and colleagues. Slowly but surely people came to realise that the deal – bad as many parts of it are – could just be tolerated if we could get rid of the backstop and that the Brady amendment just might be the way to do that. And at all events, opposing a motion which seemed at least on the face of it to be calling for exactly what we wanted would have been viewed as a little odd. During Tuesday more and more colleagues came round to that view, and of course we won the amendment in the end by 16 votes.
So now the PM has to go back to the EU and reopen the negotiations seeking a legally binding alternation to the backstop provisions. We gave her a means of doing so with the so-called Malthouse compromise, and we have done a lot of work on electronic alternatives to a hard Irish border. So we have the solutions for her, but she must now persuade the EU to accept them.
If they do not do so, then we will all know who to blame. The Conservative Party - and Parliament - came together to propose a solution to recent gridlock; we know what we want; we want a deal without the most obnoxious part to it. The EU must now step up to the mark. If they do not do so (and we will have another ‘meaningful vote’ on whatever they agree to later this month) - then they cannot be surprised if, come 29th March, we leave without any kind of agreement at all (which, of course, no-one wants.) The ball is now firmly in their court. I hope that they will enter into the spirit of the game.
So I am proud that - thanks apparently to inspiration in a dream - I helped persuade the ultra-sceptical 80 or so members of ERG to swallow their reservations (at least for now) and support the Brady amendment. As a result, we have a direction of travel which the whole Conservative Party and Government supports. With luck and a following wind, the EU will do what we want, and we will finally be able to leave the EU on 29th March with a clear agreement of the way forward.
I was but a small pawn in a big game, but on this occasion (rather immodestly) hope that I played a relatively decisive role in it. I am proud to have played some part in unlocking the Parliamentary gridlock, and therefore some little part in helping us towards leaving the EU.
I hope I am not being like Spike Milligan, whose Autobiography was immodestly entitled ‘Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall.’ ‘James Gray: How I helped Britain leave the EU.’ I hope it’s more as Shakespeare hath it, “A small thing, but mine own.”