Eustice’s deep consistency. The ConservativeHome article that presaged his resignation.

The logic of his position was that the UK was leaving by March 29th. It hasn’t changed. The Government’s has. So he’s gone.

The flow of submissions to ConservativeHome critical of the Government’s Brexit policy is greater than that of those supportive.  This was perhaps especially so in the aftermath of the Chequers plan – which this site did not support.  So by way of balance we asked Downing Street for an article by a Government Minister backing the proposals.  There was a pause.  And then, towards the end of the month, a piece turned up by George Eustice.

Some articles by Government Ministers turn out to be boilerplate.  This was different.  The then Agriculture Minister had obviously written the piece himself rather than simply approved it.  It set out his background as a former UKIP candidate, his later support for fundamental negotiation as a Conservative, his parting of the ways with David Cameron, for whom he was once press spokesman, over the EU referendum vote.

At the heart of his argument for Chequers was the following: “Parliament has already passed into law the EU Withdrawal Act which will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and end the supremacy of EU law in March next year. In the final analysis, we do not need permission from the EU to leave. The referendum result was a decision to leave, not a negotiation to leave. All that we are really negotiating at the moment are the terms of a future partnership, so the baseline for these negotiations is completely different.”

Now you may or may not agree with his view but, in the light of his resignation today, Eustice’s words take on a new significance.  His take hasn’t changed.  In his letter to Theresa May, he explains that the reason for his quitting is not her proposed deal, but a possible extension – and the Government’s connivance in it.  ” I fear that developments this week will lead to a sequence of events culminating in the EU dictating the terms of any extension requested and the final humiliation of our country,” he writes.

Eustice thus joins David Davis, Boris Johnson, Esther McVey, Dominic Raab, Guto Bebb, Suella Braverman, Sam Gyimah, Jo Johnson, Shailesh Vara, Conor Burns, Robert Courts, Chris Green, Ranil Jaywardena, Scott Mann, Will Quince and Ann-Marie Trevelyan in having resigned from the Government.  He thus becomes on our count the 17th person to do so, and is very much at the senior end, being a fully-fledged Minister of State.

All bar three of those who have quit tilt towards a harder rather than a softer Brexit: indeed, the exceptions, Bebb, Gyimah and Johnson all favour a second referendum.  Given the propensity of some pro-Remain and Soft Brexit Ministers to act otherwise, and publicly defy the policy of the Government to which they are formally committed, Eustice’s resignation is likely to tilt it in a pro-Soft Brexit and Remain direction.  He may not be the last pro-Brexit Minister to walk over the next few days.

For what it’s worth, he was also due to feature in one of this site’s planned but unpublished articles, provisionally titled “The Cabinet of people who know what they’re talking about”.  This is a way saying that he knows his Agriculture brief backwards and, were he not a white middle-aged married man, it is not at all impossible to have imagined him stepping up into the Environment Secretary job when Andrea Leadsom was reshuffled out of it.

There is sometimes more or less to a resignation than meets the eye but, when one looks back to Eustice’s article of last August, one can see a deep consistency in his decision to go.  His view hasn’t changed.  The Government’s approach has.  So he has decided to quit – even though, as irony would have it, it is possible to imagine a revised Brexit deal clearing the Commons before mid-March.  In which case there will be no extension and he will need not have gone.   Of the 16 previous resignations we can’t think of one more honourable.

Priti Patel, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, and Maria Caulfield: The Government must honour the Brady Amendment

As the Prime Minister herself has said, we need to see meaningful, legally-binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, removing the backstop.

The authors are respectively the Conservative MPs for Witham, Berwick-upon-Tweed, and Lewes.

The future shape of the UK’s exit from the EU is still to be determined.

After the Prime Minister’s deal was rejected by 230 votes, Conservative MPs from all wings of the party united around the Brady Amendment.

We came together with a clear proposal to take forward to secure our exit from the EU, on time and in line with our commitments in the Conservative Manifesto.

This will allow us to regain our independence, yet enjoy a positive relationship with the EU. It will bring an end to Brexit uncertainty and enable us to focus on building the global Britain that will not only be an economic powerhouse, but an example to the world of what we can achieve.

And it was a message to the European Union that a clear majority in the UK Parliament could back the Withdrawal Agreement as long as the backstop is “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. The Brady Amendment was also supported by the Government’s DUP partners.

The Northern Ireland backstop has to be removed from a new draft agreement. Of great concern was the threat the backstop posed to the integrity of the Union via its provisions that Northern Ireland be subject to the jurisdiction of the EU whilst Great Britain would not. So too was the fact that the draft Agreement provided no unilateral exit mechanism whatsoever for the UK, and thus bound us indefinitely to the EU.

Nothing changes the fact that, as the Prime Minister herself has said, we need to see meaningful, legally-binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, removing the backstop.

We remain open-minded as to how this is achieved, but it must be a treaty-level clause that brings about substantive legal changes. It cannot simply re-emphasise the temporary nature of the backstop, because the Attorney General has already said that it could “endure indefinitely”.

Under such circumstances it is hard not to recall the Prime Minister’s 2017 General Election mantra that no deal was better than a bad deal. If it was true then it is true now. If the EU is not prepared to listen to the wishes of the British people and its elected representatives, we have to be prepared to depart of World Trade Organisation terms. Indeed, there are some advantages to doing so.

So those who claim this country would not be able to succeed by departing on World Trade Terms have a responsibility to bring back a better deal which can command the support of the House – by dealing with the backstop.

We have provided a basis on which the Government can negotiate. It proves that the Conservative Party can unite around a set of proposals to deliver the Brexit that record numbers of Britons voted for in 2016.

They voted to take back control over borders, laws, and money. In its 2017 general election manifesto the Conservative Party solemnly promised to honour that vote, and that the UK would leave both the single market and the customs union. To break those pledges now would likely risk dangerous electoral consequences for the party, and defy the wishes of the vast majority of Conservative MPs, members, and voters.

A much happier approach would be to unify the Party around a deal it can support. To take account of the clearly expressed wishes of the House of Commons and deliver the Brexit the British people voted for.

That would offer an optimistic future and deliver the long term opportunities the British. Let’s be positive and seize the moment to negotiate the deal we all want to achieve.

Rolling list of Government resignations today

They are now coming so fast as to necessitate this list, which will be updated as the day continues.

  • Shailesh Vara (Northern Ireland Minister)
  • Dominic Raab (Brexit Secretary)
  • Esther McVey (Work & Pensions Secretary)
  • Suella Braverman (Brexit Minister)
  • Anne-Marie Trevelyan (PPS, Education)
  • Ranil Jayawardena (PPS, Justice)
  • Rehman Chishti (Vice Chair, Communities)