When she first set out her vision for Brexit at Lancaster House in January 2017, the Prime Minister confirmed the central message of the Leave campaign that the UK must “take back control” of our money, laws and borders. This meant leaving the customs union, the single market and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
She was right. Yet 18 months after that speech, some MPs, peers, senior civil servants and even Cabinet Ministers are contriving to argue against this position. They suggest the vote to Leave somehow signals that we still yearn to be rule takers from Europe and still wish to pay vast sums to the EU budget, in exchange for symbolic gestures like blue passports.
They are wrong – and for their benefit, let me remind them how we got here. In 2015, a Bill was laid before Parliament, making good on a Conservative manifesto pledge to “hold an in-out referendum on our membership of the EU before the end of 2017”. The Commons voted for the legislation by a ratio of six to one.
The referendum asked an unambiguous question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Leave won more votes than any party or issue has ever gained in British history. The people confirmed their decision at last year’s general election when 85 per cent of the votes cast were for parties supporting Brexit. The Tory manifesto – which attracted the most votes of any since John Major’s in 1992 – pledged we would “no longer be members of the single market or customs union”.
At the referendum people rejected the comically inaccurate predictions of Project Fear. They rejected the government’s official Remain view as laid out in a leaflet delivered to every household at a cost of more than £9 million to the taxpayer. Instead, they voted on a point of principle that the UK would be more successful if we governed our own affairs. One point in that leaflet they did accept, however, was the promise: “The Government will implement what you decide.”
So those now advocating for a swift, full Brexit are not “extremists”, “ideologues” or “hard Brexiteers”. We are democrats, who understand that it is our duty to implement the verdict of the British people. This is all the more important as the vote went the “wrong” way in the eyes of many in the Establishment. Failure to deliver the result would do catastrophic damage to the integrity of our institutions. How could we ever expect anyone to trust in our constitutional processes again if their express wishes can be ignored?
This is the key point. Brexit must be delivered in full to return decision-making to elected politicians and reshape the UK as a powerful advocate for global free trade. Our independent policies can maximise competition – improving quality and driving down prices for consumers by using our new freedom to remove all tariffs.
In almost every TV interview, we hear the concerns of multinational producer interests and the 12 per cent of our economy accounted for by exports to the EU. But the costs of EU regulation are felt throughout the economy, including by firms that do not export to Europe and, crucially, 100 per cent of consumers. Every one of them has a vote, and Brexit is a chance for the Tory party to show – once and for all – that in the contest between consumer and producer, we are on the side of the consumer. We must commit to lowering their costs and improving their living standards.
Producers will benefit, too. Removing tariffs will reduce the cost of raw materials. We can free them from over-burdensome regulation and allow them to embrace the innovations they need to compete. But we cannot enjoy any of these benefits if we are locked into perpetual limbo by an endless transition period.
With Momentum dragging Labour in the wrong direction, the Tories must take this opportunity. Rather than attacking “extremists” for seeking to implement our manifesto, my colleagues must heed the voices of the vast majority of our members and voters.
We know from the local elections that the Brexit vote is solid. Friday’s Cabinet meeting is a fantastic chance to consolidate that support by restating our pledge to leave the single market, customs union and ECJ.
My advice – which I have heard so often in all parts of the country – is simple: “Just get on with it.”
July 4th, 2018: Telegraph