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As the ballot papers pop through letterboxes and land in the homes of Conservative & Unionist Party members there are still some very important questions that need asking of the two prospective Tory leaders and our potential prime ministers.
The boisterous hustings, defensive debates, choreographed interviews and irreverent newspaper columns have come and gone but there remains one very big issue that the public has at the forefront of its mind – after the lamentable performance of Theresa May, can we trust Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson to do what they say?
No politician in modern times, not Tony Blair and his sexed-up Iraq dossier, not Ted Heath and his betrayal of Selsdon Man, not Harold Wilson and his defence of the “pound in your pocket” come near to Theresa May in eviscerating the solemn trust that British people once had for their democracy.
May’s shallow slogan “Brexit means Brexit” shall forever be her ignominious epitaph; the litany of lies and her “guarantee” we would as a country leave the EU on 29 March – followed by an encore of that betrayal on 11 April; the appeal to Marxist anti-semite Jeremy Corbyn to save her political skin – and the Pythonesque refusal to accept she had been defeated thrice over in Parliament by doing the decent thing and departing – all of these, and more, have scunnered the British people such that Love Island appears at times more sincere and authentic than our political process.
Never mind the need for building more houses, training and retaining more nurses and doctors, scrapping HS2 in favour of local road and rail capacity, rebalancing the north-south economic divide and depoliticising our once admired police forces – there is no bigger test before Johnson and Hunt than delivering a Brexit that is recognisable and by October 31st.
But what is Brexit? What does taking back control actually now mean at a time when Labour has finally decided to go back on its own manifesto to honour the 2016 referendum while Liberal Democrats parade their linguistic depravity by flashing “Bollocks to Brexit” over their bra-less bosoms?
I have five questions I believe each Tory candidate could answer that might tell us how much they can be trusted.
Will the UK really leave the Common Fisheries Policy? Politicians tell us it will happen – but then ignore the hard fact that they have in the past signed up to the UK immediately reinstating the same policies and allowing fisheries to be a bargaining chip in negotiations for a free trade agreement. A proper Brexit would take our fisheries off the table with access rights for other country’s fleets only determined after we have left and as part of a new fisheries management policy that gives exclusive control to UK politicians who can be held accountable for their decisions. Will Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson take us back in to a new CFP arrangement after we have left – or retain access rights and management for the benefit of our fishing communities?
Under Jeremy Hunt’s authority as Foreign Secretary our country’s independent defence policy is incrementally being handed over to the EU. This puts our own security in jeopardy and may risk the lives of our service personnel in future conflicts we could have no responsibility for while seriously weakening NATO. Under Hunt’s watch significant commitments have been given that shall tie the UK into operational command structures that make a mockery of Nick Clegg’s claim there will be no EU Army. There will be an EU military capability that we should keep our distance from. Will Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson repudiate and reject our involvement in the EU empire building and retain sole and exclusive command of our navy, army and air force outside of a defence union?
The EU customs union is a protection racket for EU producers at the expense of all consumers. It has built and maintains an insurmountable wall between European consumers and poorer peoples around the world by making their goods and services uncompetitive. It is immoral, for it exports poverty to developing nations who the EU and its members then support through wasteful foreign aid schemes. We must promote international free trade by being outside the customs union, making our own trade deals to bring down barriers, reducing prices for everyone, while cutting our foreign aid commitments that have become misplaced nation state virtue signalling. Will Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson take us out of the Customs Union and keep us out?
Despite claims to the contrary the UK remains entangled in EU financial institutions that keep us on the hook for contingent liabilities of over £200 billion, dwarfing the £39bn divorce bill and imperilling the economy and our public finances. Only a clean Brexit that removes us from financial commitments to the European Central Bank and the European Investment Bank on the day we leave can be acceptable – even David Cameron understood this – but Theresa May tied us back in. Will Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson remove these massive liabilities hanging over us that could see us bailing out debt-ridden EU countries when EU banks crash or the Euro collapses?
Kill the Withdrawal Agreement
Theresa May’s Withdrawal Treaty – “the deal” – has been characterised as bad because of the Irish backstop – it is far, far worse than that with at least ten other significant failings, including the four above. The EU cannot simply throw Ireland under a bus and cut a deal with the UK by removing the backstop – that cannot be presented as a genuine Brexit. May’s EU deal must be seen to be dead. If there is to be a new deal it would have to correct all those other failings – a task that is obviously impossible. The answer is for the EU to agree to using Article XXIV of GATT to continue existing trade access rights while a Free Trade Agreement is negotiated. Will Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson pronounce the Withdrawal Treaty dead and use the Article XXIV process to facilitate a seamless shift to leaving the EU?
There are many other questions that could be asked, but for me those five define the nature of what a Brexit would look like and give a clue to who might be trusted to deliver Brexit. It is partly because Conservative and Labour political leaders have failed to identify these questions and give convincing answers that the Brexit Party has arrived and is sweeping up support.
Hunt and Johnson need to give commitments on these five questions so Conservative members – and indeed the British public – know where they stand. In the meantime the Brexit Party will grow from strength to strength by filling the vacuum created by a lack of trust in old-school politicians to keep their word. First it will be about Brexit, but then it will mean advocating significant change elsewhere in British society. Thanks to Theresa May, British politics will never be the same again.
Brian Monteith is a Brexit Party MEP for the North East
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