Remain in the Customs Union? I don’t think so!
Back in 2012 when I was Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party, I had a major falling out with David Cameron over UKIP when he was PM.
For some years, I had coordinated the Parliamentary Party’s campaigning effort and I had witnessed the inexorable growth of UKIP and how it was beginning to shave off Conservative votes in crucial constituencies.
Having failed to convince No10, and therefore Conservative Campaign HQ, of the need to take UKIP seriously and address this issue – they were infamously referred to by David Cameron as “nuts and fruitcases” – I published a document in November 2012, analysing Parliamentary seats and concluding that we would have to make a Pact with Ukip – or neutralise them in some other way – if we ever had any hope of winning a general election.
The document was sadly prescient. Just 3 months later in February 2013, I was coordinating the Eastleigh by-election. What started as a probable win for the Tories became the closest election result in over 90 years with less than 7% separating the top three candidates.
But the Conservatives, who have since regained the seat, came third with UKIP second. (The Lib-Dems won). And far from merely shaving off votes, UKIP took a massive 25.4% of the total vote. 11,571 votes.
Since those days, times have changed. Shocked by the result, No10 came to its senses and promise a referendum on Europe. The EU Referendum in 2016 and its result has seen UKIP lose its purpose and whither on the vine. Its many erstwhile supporters have returned to the bosom of the Conservative Party.
For the time being.
“We must take back control of immigration policy, foreign trade, and our legal system. Sure, we may still wish to encourage immigration to help our economy; we may wish to set rules that duplicate foreign directives to enable our products to be exported to the EU – just as we do now to match US import requirements, but we will set those rules and quotas, not have them imposed on us by Brussels. It means being pragmatic, but also a sovereign nation again.”
Theresa May recognises the meaning of the Brexit vote. And while “Brexit means Brexit” has been ridiculed by some of the metropolitan elite, its meaning is clear to anyone who voted Leave.
It means taking back control of immigration policy, foreign trade, and our legal system. Sure, we may still wish to encourage immigration to help our economy; we may wish to set rules that duplicate foreign directives to enable our products to be exported to the EU – just as we do now to match US import requirements, but we will set those rules and quotas, not have them imposed on us by Brussels. It means being pragmatic, but also a sovereign nation again.
The Government’s defeats last week in the House of Lords defy the will of the British people.
If the Government were now to change tack and accept the Lords’ amendments, Brexit would not mean Brexit.
“The practical effect of remaining in the Customs Union leaves the UK with all the existing EU controls in place, but with less influence”
Brexit would mean control by the European Court of Justice, continued free movement of people, and the inability of Britain to forge new global trade agreements.
Sir Nick Clegg and others claim that when the British voted for Leave, they were not voting to leave the Customs Union. This fallacious and deceitful argument deliberately ignores that the Leave campaign was predicated on taking back control.
The practical effect of remaining in the Customs Union leaves the UK with all the existing EU controls in place, but with less influence.
Frankly I, and many others, would not have bothered to vote Leave if we had thought for one moment that this was going to be the Leave option on offer.
So notwithstanding the deceit of it all, I give this practical warning to No10 if they are considering changing tack and remaining in the Customs Union after Brexit: in the world of realpolitik, all the problems which lead to the growing enfeeblement of the Tory Party which began in 1993 with the foundation of UKIP will begin all over again. And the consequences will be stark and inevitable.
Theresa May recognises something which unelected peers do not: the vote to leave the EU was not a negative anti-European vote. It was a profoundly positive vote for sovereignty and self-determination from the citizens of a country with a sense of its own history and shared destiny.
If Parliament betrays this, the Conservatives will suffer the consequences.