On 13 February, I stood down as deputy chairman of the Cumbria Conservative party. I did this because I no longer feel able to act, in all conscience, as an advocate for the Conservative party.
In 2016, the prime minister’s first speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street led me to become active within the Conservative party. Her emphasis on social cohesion and social mobility inspired me, but also I was motivated to join because of what I have always seen as Conservative values – a place in the world where we punch well above our weight, pragmatism over ideology, managerial skill, leadership courage and an unswerving commitment to support business and develop the economy, which our public services all depend upon. The past two years have led me to question whether these are merely ideals, because they are certainly not evident in practice.
Firstly and most importantly, I am a Remainer and will always be one. The European Union is an institution with visible flaws, but it is critically important to Britain. I have tried to accommodate some version of Brexit within my acceptance of the future and I simply can’t. I believe it is the wrong decision for our country, which will divide us for many years to come and disproportionately damage our most vulnerable people.
I’m deeply sceptical about the economic arguments we have heard from Brexiteers. For instance, we have been told that we will be free to vary standards outside the EU. This is true, but if Britain's standards become any lower than the EU’s, we won’t be able to sell our goods to the biggest market on our doorstep. Standards are globalising upwards, not downwards. As a leading western economy, with high wage structures for a well-educated workforce, we could never compete in a low-standards market anyway. We either align with high standards or we go bust.
I’m unconvinced about how great it will be once our laws are “brought back to Westminster”. What exactly is wrong with the laws which we use within the EU? Take health and safety, for example. The EU laws on health and safety are based primarily on the UK 1974 Health & Safety at Work Act, a law widely regarded as one of the most stable and balanced pieces of legislation we have evolved in recent years. We exported it to the EU (because it was excellent) and now want to “bring it back”, in order, perhaps, not to adhere to it? Meanwhile the EU will still be using “our” law. I can’t think of one EU law that is objectionable, as they are generally the product of what 28 rational countries do together to solve their problems. If there was one, we currently have the power to veto it.
I’m particularly unhappy about the way that immigration has been handled during the Brexit process. So many EU citizens have already gone home, which should warn us that we are behaving unreasonably. Without these immigrants, the NHS will be in trouble, the labour-intensive cropping of our farmland won’t work. We need flexible EU immigration to run our economy at this level, a level which even with low unemployment and some growth, still barely pays the bills. Why would these people, who we need to run our public services, decide to come her when we’ve told them they aren’t welcome?
What upsets me most of all is the way the Conservative party has so quickly veered away from the ideals which drew me in two years ago. Brexit will hobble business and damage our economy and it is designed, negotiated and will be implemented by Conservatives, whose USP if ever there was one, was to protect the economy.
Our status in the world has been bruised badly thus far, with our poorly conceived strategy, our inconclusive and fuzzy referendum in which no voter understood the implications of their vote. I fear it will only be a matter of time before attempts are made to oust us from our permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In a threatening world, everybody else is joining into partnerships and alliances for a reason – but we think we’ll be better off on our own. It is an experiment which no sane person would undertake, created by Conservatives and nationalist ideology - a force which Conservatives are supposed to eschew.
By resigning, I am free to speak for the option that needs to be voiced. I have stood back from all the wrangling on the backstop and WTO rules and tariffs and quotas for a few weeks and I have seen something which for me is much bigger. As far out to the horizon as we can see, we are better off united. On 29 March, if we leave, the last blow of the hammer that has driven a wedge deep into the heart of our country will be struck. After that, it will be all about trying to patch up the damage.
The prime minister should now be open and honest about the fact that we have made a grave and shameful error of judgement. She should ask MPs to revoke Article 50 because it should never have been signed in the first place. It was the law of unintended consequences, one error of judgement leading to another, that has led us here and we must put things right. After the vote, which I hope very much will return us to the status quo, she should announce all political parties should be given several months to reflect on this narrowly-averted disaster and to prepare for a General Election in which they can put to the British people a set of genuine, realistic political alternatives. More than anything, she should admit that herself and Britain's other senior politicians have failed the British people.
If I could hear those sentiments expressed by our political leadership, it would restore my faith in politics. One moment of honesty and truth could repair this. The Conservative party and the political establishment need to stand up and admit that they have done us all a great wrong.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies