We are being taken for fools by the Prime Minister, but fortunately the public can see through her and are giving her a big collective raspberry.
Only Tory party loyalists – who prostrate their sycophancy for us all to see in search of personal ambition, sheer ignorance of the facts or because they are so partisan that party always comes before country – are advertising their willingness to look foolish.
I am a Leaver, I came out for taking back control when still serving in the Scottish Parliament an age ago. There are only two viable positions for our country, or indeed any country: being fully in the European Union or being fully out. Anything else is a self-deceiving construct that in time brings servitude to what the EU wants.
I can therefore respect the arguments of Europhiles who wish us to be involved in, even leading, the European project. The likes of Nick Clegg and Matthew Parris or Peter Mandelson believe in the EU; my only disappointment was that they and the Remain campaign were so unremittingly negative, so convinced that scaremongering would save the day, they studiously avoided the case for the long march to a United States of Europe.
Likewise I abhor the narrow nationalism that believes being outside the EU is enough; that we can return to warm beer, Union flag bunting and the false certainties of the Fifties and the rest of the world will beat a path to our door.
I believe in the UK developing international relations to open more doors than we have ever done before; in using our supreme strengths at soft power (ranked top again last week above France, the US, Germany and the rest) to generate more benign influence in favour of the rule of law, property rights and individual freedom. It’s what the French call our Anglo-Saxon view of the world, although the influence of our Celtic civilisation makes it more complex and beneficial than they understand or appreciate.
All I have been looking for was for Theresa May to secure the red lines she initially set out – of taking back control of our money, our borders, our laws and our terms of trade. I believed she meant it, for they are red lines that define any independent country, even in this interdependent world.
We should not be blackmailed into taking quotas of refugees but be free to do so when we think it appropriate and treat all potential migrants equally without favour to one country over another, as we have done with EU citizens over everyone else.
We should set our taxes to suit our economic circumstances and ambitions rather than be told what we can and cannot put VAT on.
We should only enter into military alliances where our national interest is protected and not put at risk because of vacillation between Berlin and Paris.
Our judiciary should be respectful of our legal tradition, not subservient to political or judicial activism of a different code that overrules our Parliament’s laws.
And our trade should be without the EU’s walls that keep out the poorest, but encourage commerce so that every nation’s boat is lifted.
The Prime Minister promised us that these objectives would be realised but her White Paper is completely at odds with her words. She told us explicitly we would not have “associate membership” with the EU but now says we shall have an “association agreement” of the type designed for countries entering the EU by adopting its laws, the Acquis Communautaire. But why sign up to a “common rulebook” we can neither shape nor amend?
Of course vocal Remainers such as Anna Soubry, Ken Clarke and Ruth Davidson have welcomed the Chequers agreement and its White Paper, for it takes us back towards EU membership they would vote for “in a heartbeat”. Davidson, like many, has accused David Davis and Boris Johnson of having provided no alternative in the last two years. This is disingenuous.
Let us remember there only ever was one plan – it was the Government’s plan and it was as Cabinet Secretary that Davis took the lead in preparing a White Paper based upon the PM’s red lines repeatedly stated in her speeches and Commons statements.
Meanwhile, in the murky background of Downing Street, May – who unlike colleagues such as Jeremy Hunt and Savid Javid would not say she would vote Leave if there were another EU referendum – surrounded herself with Remainer advisers such as Olly Robbins and Gavin Barwell.
Davis’s draft White Paper went through nine iterations at his department that generally tightened it up but left it as a cogent and coherent proposal for the mutual respect of trading standards that have formed the basis of past trade deals with the EU, but crucially would allow for the UK to diverge, while meeting EU standards where necessary. We could therefore ban foie gras or the export of live animals for slaughter. We know this because the website ConservativeHome has published in 24 sections the Davis White Paper that would have meant Brexit means Brexit.
Instead May either lost her nerve and capitulated to swallowing whole the EU’s rulebook or never had any intention of establishing a full departure from the EU’s tentacles. Ambushing Davis and the Cabinet with a new draft White Paper meant he had to resign. The likes of Clegg, Paris and Mandelson – free of Tory party motives – have all damned her proposal as worse than Brexit and worse than EU membership, for we will be a rule-taking “satellite” without a say. Taking back control, it is not.
A YouGov poll shows only 17 per cent of the British public think May’s Chequers plan a good starting point – fewer than those who supported Britain’s entry into the Iraq war.
Likewise an opinion poll shows Tory support crashing to 36 per cent, Ukip rising again and Labour leading on 40 per cent. Instead of believing that the White Paper will stop Corbyn entering No10, it is now being seen as opening the door for him, with the hashtag #ChequersMeansCorbyn trending.
May has failed to make Brexit mean Brexit. If she will not resign and go gracefully her colleagues must remove her – or the public will remove them all, and deservedly so.