The Brexit political turbulence continues to be quite extraordinary, and that famous adage that ‘a week is a long time in politics’ seems somewhat dated, given the sheer speed at which matters are unfolding. I can’t pretend to know too much about occupying our country’s highest office, but it’s fair to say I do know a thing or two about leadership challenges, and as an outsider looking in, it’s clearly been a very difficult week to ten days for the Prime Minister.
As Welsh Conservative Assembly Members we have no vote to cast when it comes to confidence in the party leader, but as proud members of the Conservative and Unionist Party, we all have ‘skin in the game.’ From a Welsh Tory perspective, I was pleased to see colleagues who held passionate views on both sides of the debate conduct themselves with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all of the Conservative flock, and it was regrettable to observe some of the mudslinging and name-calling which hit the Twittersphere and airwaves. I believe the right decision was reached by the parliamentary party, particularly as a change in leadership last week would only have benefited those pursuing a divisive second referendum.
I appreciate Brexit is a hugely emotive issue on all sides and I have to admit as someone who campaigned passionately for a prosperous future away from the shackles of the European Union, I had serious reservations regarding the Withdrawal Agreement when it was first unveiled by Theresa May. But after years in this game, you learn that politics is often about pragmatism, not necessarily idealism or perfection. Indeed, as the details have now been fully digested, it’s clear to me that we now need to get a grip as a governing party and keep our eyes on the prize.
The Prime Minister is working in the face of great adversity and political logjam, which is probably without historical precedent in the Commons. To use an analogy from her favourite sport, it often feels that she’s like an England batsman in the 1980s facing the never-ending bombardment of a brutal West Indies pace attack. But as she alluded to on the steps of No. 10 following the confidence vote, she’s listened to the concerns right across the House regarding the backstop and will do her damnedest to ensure the necessary assurances and changes are secured. Like a heroic night-watchman in the Test Match arena, she’s made it through to the end of the day’s play, and the key players in Brussels are aware of the misgivings and the sheer scale of opposition to this particular aspect of the deal.
It’s important that Theresa May is now afforded the space to ensure this is resolved positively and in a fashion which will allow her to govern, command the House and deliver in the national interest. Don’t get me wrong, No. 10 isn’t entirely blameless and doesn’t escape scot-free for the current impasse in proceedings, but the Prime Minister will be fully aware that her premiership will be judged on the delivery of Brexit, particularly now that she’s fired the starting gun on the next leadership race. Theresa May is now the Brexit Prime Minister, with most other matters likely to fall into the in-tray of her successor. And it will be a damning failure of our political class if it fails to step up to the challenge and it’s important that our parliamentarians, particularly those in Cabinet, act like the statesmen and women we need during the defining issue of our generation.
Too often of late, the office of Secretary of State has conferred stature on the individual, rather than the individual bringing stature to the office. We’ll need our political giants to emerge and stand shoulder to shoulder with the PM in the weeks ahead. Similarly, she must also play her part and allow them into the ‘tent’, and I’m pleased to see the rhetoric this week has been far more encouraging from all sides in that regard, particular in the face of the pantomime antics from Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.
We have the privilege to be in government, where we can deliver key Conservative policies in crucial areas such as the economy, housing, health and education, all with the aim of empowering our great nation. As someone who has sat on the opposition benches in the Welsh Assembly for eleven years, you can rest assured the barren wasteland outside of government is where no right-minded politician wants to be. We should never underestimate what a privilege it is, delivering change for the people and communities you represent. And during my dealings with Theresa May whilst I was leader of the Welsh Conservatives, I did not for one second see a politician who was obsessed and motivated by the trappings of high office, as some have tried to mischievously paint this this past week.
Indeed, the Prime Minister’s staggering work ethic and her deep sense of duty to the people of the United Kingdom has shone throughout this process and will ensure that no stone is left unturned in the quest for a positive resolution on the backstop. And whilst, to borrow a phrase, ‘stamina isn’t a policy’, it’s certainly a good starting point in negotiating, and uncertainty at this key period would only serve to benefit Monsieur ‘hair-ruffler’ Juncker and his cronies.
To round up by returning to the cricketing analogies, Theresa May’s deal indeed has all the hallmarks of one of her heroes, Yorkshire and England’s finest opening batsman, Geoffrey Boycott. It’s not necessarily the swashbuckling, fluent and extravagant deal we necessarily envisaged, but in the absences of credible alternatives, and with a couple of ‘nudges and nurdles’ behind square on the backstop, it can get the job done. And with the parliamentary arithmetic as it currently stands, perhaps a bit more Boycott – and a bit less ‘KP’ – is what’s needed to get Brexit over the line. Moving on to the long-term trade arrangements of the negotiations is hugely important and a failure to deliver Brexit will ensure we lose the trust of the nation for a generation or more.
This isn’t where I would’ve liked us to have been, nor is it the deal I envisaged back in the lofty heights of June 2016, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and we’ve got to readjust and play on the wicket which is now in front of us.
We’ll only get one shot at this, and the Prime Minister is the batter on strike with a run or two to win. And she might just have to scamper that final single off the last ball to get us over the line…
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