In just six days’ time, voters go to the polls in the most important election for a generation. After weeks of campaigning, Brexit remains the defining issue that will affect everything from the health of the economy, to investment in our precious public services. Only the Conservatives under Theresa May have the plan, resolve and leadership to make a success of Brexit for the whole country.
Theresa May’s Conservative Government has done three vital things to prepare the ground for these negotiations. First, ensure the economy is strong enough to withstand the buffeting from the referendum vote last year. The economy is the second fastest growing in the G7 group of advanced industrial nations. Employment is at a record high. Major businesses from Nissan to Bosch are pouring in fresh investment, despite the decision to leave – this is a vote of confidence in Britain’s future.
Second, in January, Theresa May gave her Lancaster House speech, setting out her detailed objectives for the Brexit negotiations, and followed up with a formal 75-page White Paper. The plan involves Britain taking back control over our laws, our money and our borders. It is ambitious, optimistic and forward-looking. We want the strongest relationship with our European friends – on trade, security and wider cooperation. We also want Britain to have the broadest horizons and become a global leader in free trade. That will expand export opportunities for UK business, boost domestic productivity, create new jobs and cut prices in UK shops.
The first two steps helped deliver the third, which is to start to bridge some of the divides here at home. A YouGov poll last month, less than a year on from the referendum, found 68 per cent of British voters now want to make a success of Brexit – only 22 per cent still want to stop it from happening. Away from the media din, the public mood has shifted.
Likewise, if you take the Prime Minister’s plans and compare them with the EU Council’s formal negotiating guidelines, there is wide overlap – perhaps on two-thirds of issues – and particularly on the ambition for a strong win-win trade and security relationship. There’s no doubt that tough diplomacy lies ahead. There are thorny aspects where we still differ. And there have been silly (albeit predictable) jibes from the EU Commission making it into the press. Take that episode as a case in point. Theresa May firmly but calmly told Brussels that Britain would not be bullied, eliciting howls of panicky protest from Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Lib Dems’ Tim Farron. Then, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker admitted publicly the press briefing was a “serious mistake”.
Brexit will require Theresa May’s robust resolve, not the supine sycophancy that Messrs Corbyn and Farron displayed. In fact, the case for Eeyorish pessimism is thin – until you consider the alternatives advocated by Labour and the Lib Dems.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party says it will rewrite the UK negotiating objectives after the election, but he can’t explain how it would differ from the Conservative plan in a single material respect. The only thing he will say is that he would pay almost any price for almost any agreement. Just yesterday, Corbyn appeared to demote Kier Starmer, his respected Brexit spokesperson, with whom he disagrees over the importance of immigration controls. Under a Labour government, Starmer would no longer be the sole chief negotiator. Instead, he would be flanked by Corbyn loyalists Emily Thornberry and Barry Gardiner in the negotiating room. That is a recipe for diplomatic shambles. If Corbyn can’t lead a united Labour Party on Brexit, how can he lead the country into these vital talks?
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems want a second referendum, which would obliterate our negotiating leverage, because it would telegraph to Brussels that we might change our mind if the EU offers lousy terms. A vote for Tim Farron, so the Lib Dems can prop up a Labour government, only makes the risk of “No Deal” more likely. Brussels would eat a Lib-Lab coalition, led by Jeremy Corbyn, for Brexit breakfast.
In this election, leadership matters because Brexit diplomacy will resume straight afterwards. So, take a moment to picture the scene in Brussels. Inside the negotiating room, sat around a long mahogany table are the EU leaders – Jean-Claude Juncker, Michel Barnier, Angela Merkel and the rest. The door opens and in walks the British Prime Minister to fight our corner. With everything at stake, do you want that person to be Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn? On 8 June, a vote for the Conservatives is the best chance to make the best of Brexit – and take Britain forwards.
Dominic Raab is the Conservative candidate for Esher & Walton
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