There’s a lot of twaddle being talked about Brexit. Here is how I see some of the bigger issues:-
- It will happen. The people voted for it. We will have left the great behemoth in the sky by April, 2019. That cannot – and if you believe in democracy must not- be reversed.
- There is no such thing as a ‘hard’ Brexit, nor a ‘soft’ one, nor a ‘red white and blue one’ nor anything in between. Either we are In the EU or we are Out of it. The ‘Hard Brexit’ name has been devised by the Remain camp to frighten the electorate into thinking that if we leave we are facing poverty, job losses, general catastrophe. (Remember the failed ‘Project Fear’ during the Referendum Campaign? They are still at it.)
- EU workers: We need them. There are 3.8 million in the UK, about 1 million Brits working in the EU, plus large numbers of retired people. Everyone who is in the UK on the day we leave will be allowed to stay; those who have lived here for 5 years or more will essentially get indefinite leave to remain. Thereafter, we will of course want migrant workers - fulfilling essential jobs in agriculture, the NHS, long-term care, the construction industry, to continue to come here. It would be crazy not to do so. But it should be for the UK Government to decide how many are allowed to come in. We will at last have the ability to prevent the 250 million people across the Continent to flood into the UK at their will.
- Worthwhile EU laws, for example, on the environment, and protecting workers rights, will be transferred en masse onto the UK Statute Book. We can then repeal or change bits of it as we wish over the coming years. That will be at the will of the British people, and decided in the UK Parliament at Westminster.
- Trade will at last be a matter for us. How can it be that a great trading and maritime nation such as ours are NOT allowed to make trade deals round the world? Why can we not be members of The World Trade Organisation ourselves? Why should we be prevented from a Trade agreement with the US, for example? As to trade within the EU- well more comes this way than goes that way, so it really should not be a problem for that to continue. We don’t need to be members of the Single market, nor customs union, which prevents proper trading relationships with the rest of the world.
- Money: there will be a divorce settlement, in which we will get rid of our shares in the buildings, pay off long-term employees, sort out pension funds and so on. That is what happens, for example, when two companies de-merge. We must pay our liabilities. Of course we must. But just like a divorce settlement, neither side must be allowed to ‘take the other to the cleaners’. And after that, of course, we will be saving the vast annual payments (Yes- £350milion a week in gross terms.)
- Courts: the European Court of Justice must have no say over our laws. If not, what’s the point of leaving?
So let’s stop worrying about it. We are leaving the EU. There are all sorts of bits and pieces to be sorted out, none of them insuperable. And above all let’s get away from the utter drivel being spouted by some of those who would like to overturn the will of the people, either by staying ‘in’, or even worse making some kind of Machiavellian plot the end result of which would be all the worst bits of the EU, with none of the benefits. Let’s have a clean break, and get on with deciding our own futures.
Sometimes a particular constituency event sparks ideas on a wider canvass, or inspires me to think in new ways or new areas. One such was Friday’s ultra-moving and inspiring first viewing of two films about the life and achievements of Stanton St Quintin 11-year-old, Jonathan Bryan. Jonathan has Cerebral Palsy, and were it not for his huge personality and character and the love and fantastic support of his parents, we would never have discovered that despite his inability to speak or write, he has a fantastic brain, huge literary ability and a playful sense of humour.
His CBBC Film, MY Life, and a sister film Teach Us Too were premiered in Stanton Primary School. Jonathan uses a method of writing and speaking using eye movements on a special board, something very unusual for a child. The prose, poetry and general fun which emerged, and his resulting campaign to find a voice for others trapped inside a speechless body was truly inspirational. Quite leaving aside his disabilities, the level of thought and philosophy, and the Christianity which he shows is way beyond the natural capacity of any eleven year old.
Political and Parliamentary life can wax and wane. This week it’s a debate about public sector pay. My own view is that we should probably accept the recommendations of the 8 pay review bodies even if that exceeds the 1% cap, but that we must not as a result allow the flood gates to open in general public-sector spending. That would be irresponsible profligacy. Austerity has meant record employment, and a decent standard of living for most people. We must not wreck it by huge public borrowing or irresponsible tax rises to fund politically expedient spending growth. Brexit and all it brings are ever present in our public life; views of the Election and where it all went wrong, the DUP deal, the personality of our leader and contenders for her job; Labour’s woes of every kind. These are the very stuff of politics and public debate.
But sometimes we need to rise above the political hubbub and whirligig; and we can do so by seeking inspiration in little things, somehow or another almost unconnected to public life. Such an inspiration comes from young Jonathan and his dedicated and committed parents. It’s not just his determination to rise above his disabilities; not only his campaigning to help others in the same position as himself, but perhaps without the help which he has been lucky enough to have; it’s something about his cheerful insouciance at his disability.
Jonathan’s life is determined not by the fact that he cannot live as the rest of us are lucky enough to live. His life is determined by his original thoughts about a wide variety of matters which he is now able, through the use of his eye movement and a persex board, to express to the world. I was also struck by how profound his belief is in Jesus Christ, and how he has not allowed his disability to lead him to rail against his belief, but rather to strengthen it.
Young Jonathan Bryan is an inspiration to us all.
Last week’s Column was drafted before the appalling tragedy of Grenfell Tower, and so must have seemed unfeeling to some readers. What can anyone say about it? The sheer horror of being stuck on those upper floors is the stuff of nightmares; and the losses and hardship of survivors and the bereaved are appalling. We must all do what little we can to help – and I salute the Malmesbury Fire Station who are washing cars to raise funds. Societies truly come together at times like these to give each other help and support and love.
How sad it therefore is that a mad and bad man should think it some kind of duty to drive his van into peaceful Moslems leaving the Mosque as they break their Ramadan Fast. What kind of lunatic must he be to do such a thing? The Imam acted swiftly and well to stop any kind of immediate backlash. At times like these, we must come together, not force ourselves apart.
Negotiations with the DUP about forming some kind of alliance (which does not imply that we necessarily accept their social values which are at odds with our own); the start of the Brexit negotiations, the drafting of the Queen’s Speech to cover a two year Parliament – The PM’s In-tray is overflowing. And that is without touching on Mr Trump and his troubles, on Qatar, Mosul, Raqqa, Russia and a thousand other vitally important matters any of which could explode at a moment’s notice. Who would want to be PM? I would not do it for a Million pounds.
Two general elections, Brexit referendum, Trump, terrorist outrages, Grenfell Tower and so much else has left us all deeply weary. We need a period of peace and stability; of certainty and hope for the future. That is why I strongly support Mrs May’s efforts to refloat the Ship of State, to get life back to normal, to dampen down fires. Steady as She Goes. One thing we really do not need for now is any kind of leadership challenge or other seismic disturbance. Let’s get through to the Summer, get Parliament going, settle our frayed nerves, start to mend our fractured society. Now is not the time for any more excitements.
So I will be doing what I believe the electorate of North Wilts would want - that peace and quiet, stability and hope for the future. I will not be taking part in plots or gossip, which are rife in Parliament. I will be doing what I can round North Wiltshire (20 or 30 engagements since the Election so far), re-establishing my chairmanships, and my defence and polar interests in Parliament, and taking an active part in every aspect of Parliamentary life. But I will be rocking no boats. Call me dull, if you like, but that is my interpretation of what my electorate want, and also what is good for the country - a period of boredom would do us all a lot of good.
It is at least a theoretical possibility that if Theresa May had not done a deal with the DUP, HM the Queen would ultimately have been forced to summons Mr Corbyn to ask if he felt he was able to form a minority Government. The only other possibility would have been a second General Election, with the likelihood of a serious Labour challenge, if not guaranteed victory.
So it may be that some of us dislike some aspects of DUP social policy (yet most are matters of personal conscience and a free vote in the House of Commons.). It may be that we jealously eye the £1.5 Billion investment in Northern Ireland and imagine what that would have done to the potholes in Northern Wiltshire (ignoring the much higher unemployment and other legacies of the Troubles which the Province is struggling to put right.) It may be that we are uneasy about some aspects of the read-across to the Ulster peace process (although in the event I think the deal is likely to hasten the return to devolved government in Stormont, with a view to their controlling that extra spending.) So of course there are plenty of people who are critical of the deal in one way or another, some with greater reason than others.
But if their views on any of these matters were to have prevailed, then there would have been a very real possibility of a hard left Corbyn-led Labour Government within, perhaps, 12 months of now. So we may be uneasy about one or other aspect of the DUP deal, but let us be careful about what we wish for. Those concerns would pale into insignificance by comparison with the Socialist chaos and national bankruptcy which would assuredly follow.
Mr Corbyn has promised billions of pounds in hand-outs, blithely ignoring the money-tree reality; he has promised untold billions to Nationalise various industries (water and railways), and in the past he and his left-wing colleagues have openly espoused the State ownership of large parts of the economy.; he has sympathised with all sorts of terrorist groups, including the IRA, and would apparently be unwilling to use our nuclear deterrent no matter what the aggressor may be doing. In these and a thousand other ways, Mr Corbyn’s Government would soon return us to the economic chaos and national ridicule which we oldies can remember from the 1960s and 1970s. (Perhaps hardly surprising that most of the surge in his Glastonbury-type support comes from those who cannot remember Tony Blair’s Government, far less Harold Wilson’s.)
So leaving aside Labour supporters, who might well want to shoot down the DUP deal as a step towards their Socialist dreamland, others of a more normal and sensible outlook on life need to realise that only through the deal signed this week, no matter what you may think of its detail; only through that deal can we hope for some kind of normalcy, some kind of steadiness. Unless you actually want a Corbyn Government (9000 people did in the election in North Wilts, by comparison with the 33000 Tory voters who did not), you need to realise that not everything in political life is comfortable. Not every aspect is how we would ideally like it to be. But the alternative- in this case a Corbyn-led Socialist catastrophe – would be one heck of a lot worse. Sometimes politics is about the least bad of the options available. This may be one of those occasions.
‘Rejoice, Celebrate; be of Good Heart and Great Cheer’ may well not be what you expected to read in my first column after what by anyone’s standard was a train-crash of a General Election. It was probably right to have called it, although there are arguments both ways on that one. The Tory Manifesto, its handling and explanation was a disaster in parts; Theresa May’s Presidential style of campaigning (and relatively wooden appearances – ‘the naughtiest thing I have ever done was to run across a farmer’s wheat field’) was asking for trouble, as was our underestimate of Jeremy Corbyn’s lifelong campaigning ability. We thought that the UKIP vote would come to us, but it seems to have been evenly split with Labour; we failed to foresee the national collapse in the Lib Dem vote, much of which is presumed to have gone to Labour; and we failed to engage properly with young voters, who flocked to the polls in their droves to ‘Vote for Jeremy’.
The result, of course, is not at all what we wanted. A number of good friends and colleagues from across the House find themselves without a job through no fault of their own (Ben Howlett in Bath, Neil Carmichael in Stroud and Charlotte Leslie in Bristol North West locally). We have a minority Conservative Government, which commands only a small overall majority supported by the Democratic Unionists (and there is a tricky read-across here to the current Ulster settlement discussions); we have a weakened (albeit for now surviving) Prime Minister entering some of the trickiest and most important negotiations for decades; we have less clarity about the outcome of those negotiations than we had hoped, and arguably a much weaker negotiating stance as a result of the tricky Parliamentary arithmetic. So not much to like about all of that, and a vast amount of work to do to try to put it right.
Yet we must not let the gloom obscure a few cheerful glimpses. We secured 42.4% of the votes cast, which is the highest since 1983, and not dissimilar to the votes cast for Tony Blair in his landslide 1997 victory. It’s just that we did not see the surge in Labour support coming. We have made great strides in Scotland, where we now have more MPs than any time since 1997, and we put the odious SNP back in their box. And tricky as it may be, we have a Conservative Government for the next five years rather than the Communist dictatorship bankrupting Britain which would have been the consequence of a Corbyn victory. And without immodesty, we have a great deal to celebrate here in Wiltshire. My majority at 22872 is the largest ever in the history of the County, the second largest in the South West; and it is reassuring to know that close to two thirds of the electorate supported me with their vote. I must have done something right.
So I would simply thank every single person who voted for me; and pledge to them and to everyone in North Wilts of all political persuasions and none that I will continue my hard work for all of you. The 32398 people who voted for me did so predominantly because they wanted a Conservative Government and all that that means for them. So I promise to do what I can in Westminster to make sure that they get it. What an honour it is to have been re-elected in this way, and I will do all I can to live up to your high expectations.
© 2019 Promoted by Nick Botterill, on behalf of James Gray, both of North Wiltshire Conservatives, 12 Brown Street, Salisbury SP1 1HE.