I apologise for the length of this post, but I wanted to give you the full picture of why I have taken the stances and actions I have, because I did not arrive at those decisions lightly.
I was upfront about my position. I signed a letter of no confidence in Theresa May in July following her Chequers proposals and voted against her continued leadership of the Conservative Party in the vote, as did 116 other Conservative MPs. I did so for a number of reasons. Although I hadn’t supported her in her bid to become Conservative Leader in 2016, I was very supportive of her statements regarding the EU, such as Brexit means Brexit, that we would leave the customs union (manifesto commitment), that we wouldn’t be half in and half out of the EU (Lancaster House speech January 2017) and that there would no border down the Irish Sea.
It was only when she started to depart from those assurances, through her Chequers proposals, and then more recently in her proposed Withdrawal Agreement, that I came to the view that she was not the right person to lead the country. I haven’t for one minute doubted her resilience or resolve, her energy or her determination. But those qualities don’t make up for the lack of a strategy or coherence in policy. The Withdrawal Agreement which she put to Parliament, and then subsequently withdrew in the face of very substantial Conservative opposition, went against so much of what she had previously said. And in my opposition to that proposal I have received overwhelming support from people in my constituency.
I was also very concerned by the effect that the proposed Withdrawal Agreement was having with our relationship with the DUP, on whom we depend for a Parliamentary majority – thanks to the calling of an unnecessary General Election and a subsequently appalling campaign. Relations between the DUP and Mrs May have become very strained indeed recently. Just yesterday, they issued a statement saying
We had a useful meeting with the Prime Minister. It was an opportunity to outline why the current Withdrawal Agreement is dangerous to our economy and the Union. We emphasised that tinkering around the edges would not work. We were not seeking assurances or promises. We wanted fundamental legal text changes. We have been consistent which is why it is so frustrating that our warnings about the backstop have not been heeded. The DUP wants a sensible deal which our MPs can support in the House. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to work towards that. Unionism in Northern Ireland and across the House of Commons has rightly stood against this Withdrawal Agreement. It should be utterly unacceptable to any unionist. For Northern Ireland traders to be expected to treat GB as a third country is ridiculous and was never going to receive support in Parliament.
It is the breakdown of the relationship between Mrs May and the DUP which could bring about a Corbyn government. If Mrs May insists on trying to force her Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons, and somehow succeeds in doing so, the DUP could not be guaranteed to support the government in a confidence motion. They have their own electorate to answer to and they would not do anything to help bring about the border in the Irish Sea which Mrs May always said she wouldn’t agree to. In this scenario, a General Election could result and we would therefore be risking allowing Jeremy Corbyn into No 10. Voting down the Withdrawal Agreement, or even removing Mrs May from office, will not lead to a General Election, but the loss of DUP support would. Mrs May says she will now seek to obtain legal text from the EU which will reassure MPs. She, and the EU, had previously said that this would not be possible, and if she fails to do this and simply brings back essentially the same Withdrawal Agreement then the scenario I describe above becomes live.
However, Mrs May kept her position as leader of the Conservative Party. I accept that result and we move on. As I would under any leader, I will carefully scrutinise any proposals which she brings back to the Commons regarding our leaving the EU and will vote the way I feel is best for our country and my constituency. Substantial and legal changes will be needed before I support the Withdrawal Agreement, but let’s see what comes back.