12 December 2018

Why May should stay

By Matt Warman

We live in a time unprecedented in our country’s history. We stand at the gates of delivering on the historic vote to leave the EU in 2016, with employment and wage growth at extraordinary highs. It’s a platform that will allow Britain to seize the unique opportunities of Brexit and also to address the challenges of health, housing, homelessness and more.

But this – this! – is the moment the Conservative Party chooses to look inwards, to turn on a leader facing extraordinary challenges, to thereby jeopardise Brexit itself and make it clear we care more for ourselves than the national interest. The public should think we’re mad. Carry on like this, how long before they ever think us fit to govern again? The stakes in tonight’s Conservative Party leadership contest could not be higher.

Decency, integrity, common sense and competence are the ineradicable hallmarks of Conservatism. They are, in truth, the values that unite us all in Parliament and they’re why Theresa May deserves to win tonight’s Confidence vote. They’re why the economy is in the remarkable state it’s in. They’re why the Prime Minister, embodying those values, has been able to produce negotiations from the EU her doubters said could never happen. Now, because some don’t think the deal on the table is perfect they would throw everything away.

Contrast this with the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn – there should be no more uniting force for the right than the prospect of a government led by a man whose history shows such support for all the fiscal and political causes that have proved so literally and morally bankrupt.

We saw, however, in 2017 that millions more than many of us ever thought possible will vote for those ideas – we saw that old arguments must be made anew. Yet still the fear of a government so clearly able to damage the country irrevocably is apparently not enough to make sure all our eyes are on the real horizon. I know my own constituents would suffer under a Labour government.

There’s something else and bigger, too, that would see the voters in my constituency, Boston and Skegness, suffer — that is a parliament or a government who, for lack of clear thought and pragmatism, put Brexit and thereby democracy itself at risk. A party that puts purism above pragmatism and invites Corbyn into Number 10 will avoiding Brexit would be punished at the ballot box.

It is increasingly possible that any leadership challenge will result in the delaying of Article 50, and the bolstering of a position in Parliament that supports a second referendum or simply the revocation of Article 50. The crucial deadline of January 21 could yet slip past, unnecessarily sending the UK into a no deal Brexit.

Britain deserves better than a parliament that gives the fifth-biggest economy in the world anything other than a managed, orderly deal that lays the groundwork for a relationship with the EU that is close and friendly, but also sees the United Kingdom taking full control of our money, our borders and our laws, out of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy.

Given the Labour Party’s leadership, it falls to the Conservatives to deliver on that optimistic vision of our great country outside the EU. As others have said, how can we countenance snatching defeat from the jaws of victory through self-indulgence.

On Twitter, it’s easy to believe that Conservatives are almost all of one, No Deal mind. But out there on the doorsteps, it’s clear that there’s a realistic sense that divorce is expensive, that the short-term disruption of WTO terms is immense, and there’s a genuine, widespread admiration for the Prime Minister.

I’ve had far more emails from constituents today saying I should vote to keep her in place than anything else. In part, the Brexit vote was against the perception that MPs were out of touch – we look perilously out of touch when we dance in Parliament on the heads of procedural pins, and the same will be even more true if she is ousted this evening.

Nobody thinks any politician is perfect, nor that they will be around forever – but nobody wins a race by changing horses. Now is the time not only for the steadfast resilience of the Prime Minister, but also for consistency and determination from the Conservative Party.

The Prime Minister with the nerve to go back to Europe to find a deal that will get through Parliament is the Prime Minister whose good faith deserves that of MPs as well. Those who would seek another leader now should be careful what they wish for.

It’s becoming a cliché, but the choice really is as stark as the Prime Minister paints it: no Brexit will fundamentally undermine all the values we should hold most dear as democrats and it’s more likely than ever. Today, Theresa May deserves as much support from her parliamentary colleagues as she truly has out in the country.

Matt Warman is the MP for Boston & Skegness.