Nick Hargrave: The capitalism of the future demands a bigger role for the state

Its muscular power is needed to boost share ownership, build houses and tax wealth rather than income. And let’s rule out a No Deal Brexit.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street Special adviser where he worked for both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works for Portland, the communications consultancy.

Philip Hammond’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference last October is unlikely to be remembered as a rhetorical classic. But it contains within it an important insight for the political fortunes of the Conservative Party and the long-term prosperity of our country.

Speaking to a less than packed hall, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told delegates that Conservatives of the future must:

“Harness the power of the market economy, taking a model which has evolved continuously down the ages, so that the capitalism of the twenty-first century looks nothing remotely like that of the nineteenth – and adapt it once again to speak to the values of a new generation.”

Hammond was speaking to a truth that Conservatives sometimes forget. Capitalism is not a static construct held in aspic. It is an economic system which flexes to meet the challenges of its time – and in doing so renews its mandate from one generation to the next.

This flexible conception of capitalism has been seen in the differing approaches of Conservative governments since the Second World War.

In the 1950s and 1960s, after a landslide defeat in 1945, our party accepted a greater role for state involvement in the running of the economy; spurred on by a gradual realisation that the laissez-faire approach of the 1930s had been an opportunity lost.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Margaret Thatcher burst onto the scene with an articulation of capitalism that was more libertarian and evangelical about the merits of free enterprise – in keeping with its time and a reaction to the drift and decline inherent in state involvement going too far.

The 1990s and 2000s saw the pendulum swing the other way, and voters demand a gentler articulation of the harder-edged approach of the 1980s – with support for a minimum wage, windfall taxes and more investment in the public realm. On this occasion, our party failed to meet this challenge, clinging doggedly to our post event conception of Thatcherism, and paid an electoral price.

The lesson of history is clear. When Conservatives adapt to generational calls for change on our political economy they prosper and own the terms of debate; more than capable of beating a Labour Party whose competence is usually doubted. When they fail to acknowledge the call for change they lose – and only regain power after a period of painful reflection.

If the events of the past couple of years have taught us anything, it is time for Conservative politicians to once again come up with a coherent answer for how capitalism can renew its generational mandate. Specifically, how it can materially improve the British people’s living standards in an economy that is undergoing a technological transformation; one that is increasingly global, that’s conducted online, that’s moving at pace to automation – and which is increasingly flexible in its conception of the nature of work.

It’s this transformation which is fuelling the rise of identity politics in our country – which for all its short-term attractions is unlikely to end well. It’s fuelling divisions between the upwardly mobile and the educated in our vibrant urban centres who are benefitting from this change – and the many in our towns and communities who feel left behind. Between a younger generation which is finding it hard to amass capital – and an older generation who have assets that have appreciated over the years.  It’s why a lot of public and private polling out there indicates that people feel the country is moving in the wrong direction domestically. And it’s why the main thing keeping the current Conservative voting coalition together is the illusory tiger of a Brexit which can never meet the hype – and one suspects will eventually end in disappointment.

So what’s the real answer for Conservatives in how we reinvigorate capitalism in a way that is relevant for the 2020s and beyond – and in the process renew our own mandate to govern? This could be the subject of several more articles, but here are a few core thoughts as follows:

  • First, in politics you must get the tone and definition right before you get into the policy weeds. The platform must feel upbeat, inclusive, and focussed on the guiding prism of a better future for us all to share. Optimism is infectious. This is where I think in hindsight Theresa May got the balance wrong during the period 2016-17.  The framing of the ‘privileged few’ may have been tactically popular, but it was caricatured and created expectations of a reckoning with business that was self-defeating and ceded political space to Jeremy Corbyn. It’s much easier to have difficult conversations with businesses about their responsibilities in the modern economy if you have an overall macro-message that is supportive. 70 per cent carrot and 30 per cent stick feels about right.
  • Second, I think we are going to have come to terms with a more muscular and high spending state over the next 20 years. Critically, that spending and guiding hand must be prioritised on investment in the future rather than pumping cash hand over fist into resource spending. In Treasury, speak this means more ambitious capital programmes than currently on R&D and science, digital infrastructure and transport. Always remember that the jobs, wealth and economic security of 25 years’ time will come from ideas that we cannot even conceive of yet.
  • Third, people have to feel confident they are benefitting from the system. Rather than using Labour language of ‘fixing a broken market’, focus instead on the positive articulation of what a muscular state can do to promote the holding of capital. Spend much, much more on state-backed programmes to build houses, remodel the corporate tax system with the strategic goal of incentivising employee share ownership – and turbocharge the somewhat limp National Retraining Scheme into a massive endeavour for all people in industries at risk of automation.
  • Fourth, we need to be able to pay for this and remain fiscally credible. There is no perfect way to do this but a shift towards wealth over income taxes is broadly the right way to go. This is hard but inevitable. Most realistically this can only come from a new leader at the height of their political powers.
  • Fifth, there is the question of how we maintain our political definition with Labour. I would strongly suggest we do not fall back into an ideological debate about libertarianism versus socialism (if put like that, Britain over the next 20 years is going to go for the latter). Focus instead on the values and language of economic competence and strong leadership, brought to life in the programme above, and the rest flows from there. With the current Labour frontbench this task is inordinately easier than if we were up against a centre-left leadership.
  • Finally, whatever you do – don’t countenance a ‘no deal’ Brexit. It will detract focus from this generationally important task – and will lead to many more years of austerity. This cannot be emphasised enough.

Lord Ashcroft: “It’s not the apocalypse – calm down.” My Brexit limbo focus groups.

Most of the people in most of our groups – Remain and Leave, Conservative and Labour – thought we would end up leaving with some sort of deal.

Last week’s pause in the parliamentary shenanigans over Brexit provided an opportunity to hear what the voters made of it all. This I did with a round of focus groups, conducted in London, Plymouth, Leeds and Newcastle.

Though few have the time or patience to digest every morsel of Westminster news, their summary of the state of play was always succinct: “Theresa has had to go back to Europe, but they’ve said ‘non’,” was a typical summary. “She’s just collecting air miles. She’s going round in circles;” “As a country we now look very weak and very silly to the rest of the world. It’s come to the point that it’s almost embarrassing.”

“They’ve left their homework until Sunday night.”

People knew that the main sticking point was the backstop, and therefore the Irish border – an issue that seems to many to have been adopted as a convenient obstacle to Brexit and thus blown out of all proportion: “It’s just something for the politicians to talk about, something for the EU to hang their hat on.” Though some were frustrated that “a problem for the Irish” which had barely been mentioned during the referendum campaign was holding up the whole enterprise, people accepted that the problem needs solving.

Even so, many doubted the supposed impossibility of the task: “It’s an absolute red herring. They’ve made it into something it doesn’t have to be;” “Technology can definitely do it. They can find a way. Other people don’t seem to have a problem.” While people knew what the backstop was for, few could explain how it worked – though some had picked up that as things stood “we would never get out of the customs union, they won’t set a date.”

But if the border and the backstop were the proximate cause of the current impasse, the more fundamental reason was that “they’ve left their homework until Sunday night.” Remainers especially argued that the referendum had been embarked upon with little thought given to the potential consequences, let alone a proper plan for leaving the EU: “David Cameron cocked it up. He thought he would win but he lost and off he went.” Everything since had been the “ripple effect”.

For many Leavers, the plan should have involved serious preparations for a no-deal exit from the outset. Despite the now-discarded mantra that no deal was better than a bad deal, “no deal has never really been discussed. If it had been more on the table and the Government had been planning for no deal, it would have put more pressure on the EU;” “When they started digging in their heels, they started backtracking. It was an idle threat that we would leave with no deal.” (As such, it would be foolish to take no deal off the table: “She’d have no bargaining power whatsoever. It’s like someone ringing your doorbell and saying they’re not going until they’ve bought your house. You’d say it was ten million quid.”)

Some felt that for all her exertions, the problem was that Theresa May remained a remainer at heart: “I’d rather have had someone doing it who believed in it.” This had prevented her being tougher in the negotiations and more willing to threaten to leave with no deal if the right terms could not be agreed: “She should have done a Donald Trump.”

Another thing that should have started much earlier was the effort to build a cross-party consensus. Europe did not take us seriously because we were divided; a united front, many argued, would have clarified Britain’s position and put the government in a stronger position to negotiate:

“What they’re doing in parliament now, that’s what they should have been doing before they even invoked Article 50, so parliament agreed on what we were going to the EU with. They’ve done it back to front really;” “People like Jacob Rees-Mogg should be the extremists in the corner, they shouldn’t be leading the debate.” As it was, “she’s now having to bribe Labour MPs up north, to give more money to those councils. It’s crazy really. This is history you’re living through.”

“You should have been talking from the start, you petulant child.”

Of course, a cross-party consensus is not something a government can build by itself. Most thought Jeremy Corbyn was himself a Brexiteer, but that Labour’s own divisions had forced him to appear ambivalent, while the demands of party politics had made him obstructive: “It’s because it’s a Conservative-negotiated deal. It doesn’t matter what the deal is, there is no way they were going to back it because they want to push for a general election. That’s what’s frustrating people – whatever is on that piece of paper is utterly irrelevant, they’re not going to pat her on the back and say ‘well done’.”

Labour would want to avoid losing votes from either leavers or remainers, so “in interviews he will dodge the question in a quite funny obviously dodgy way.” The party seemed to want to avoid being associated with whatever happened: “They think it’s going to be a mess, so they don’t want to own it. So they’re going to hang back and when it goes pear-shaped, blame the Tories.”

If this was understandable, it was not particularly commendable: “We elected them to have an opinion and they’re just not;” “he’s used the UK’s future, the Brexit debate, to score political points.” His refusal to meet the Prime Minister after the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement had stuck in people’s minds on all sides: “Why make that stand then, when everyone else was agreeing to it?” “When he said he wouldn’t talk to her, that was ridiculous;” “He wouldn’t meet the Prime Minister, but he meets terrorist groups!” Some had noticed that Corbyn had belatedly joined in discussions, but “you should have been talking from the start, you petulant child. From the moment the country decided, there should have been a cross-party consensus that OK, this is happening, let’s work together. But they haven’t, they’ve worked against it.”

Several people in different groups – not least 2017 Labour voters – said their initially positive view of Corbyn had waned in recent months as he seemed more and more like just another politician: “The thing that sticks in my mind is when he got on that Virgin train and completely bullshitted, saying it was rammed, and was proven wrong. He had so much egg on his face;” “And when he called Theresa May a stupid woman and said he didn’t. An idiot could see he said ‘stupid woman’. Why would you do that, because everyone knows you’re a liar?” “I’d like to be a fan of his, I really would, but my instinct is that he’s trying to pretend to be something different to the norm, and actually he’s exactly the same;” “My whole family, we loved him. It’s like when you first see Boris, you think he’s really cool, you really warm to him, but both of them have just descended into madness. It’s sad, it’s really sad.”

“May Deal Number 42.”

Most people had at best a hazy understanding of the contents of May’s Brexit deal. Apart from “£39 billion in reparations” and an attempt to “keep some kind of trading arrangement with Europe” – and, of course, the ubiquitous backstop – very few details had sunk in.

There were four main reasons for this. First, people had long ago started to tune out of Brexit news. Second, most of the coverage people did notice seemed to concentrate on the various objections to the deal, making it hard to pin down what was actually in it: “No-one’s any the wiser about what she has worked out. I think everyone’s switched off.” Third, the deal still did not feel like a final proposal: “It’s like a constant working document;” “They keep flipping and changing everything. There is literal Brexit fatigue, where you say OK, she’s got a deal, fine, May Deal Number 42, just get it through. It’s the moving forward I want now, not the whatever deal it is.” Fourth, and perhaps most tellingly, people no longer believe it matters what they think: “Even if we do know everything about it, it doesn’t really make any difference. We’ve got no control over it, have we?”

What people do know is that the deal has been attacked from nearly all sides, which suggests to some that “they wouldn’t be objecting if there wasn’t something that wasn’t quite right with it” and prompts others to reflect that “it was always going to be like this” given that “the EU were never going to make it easy, the Conservatives were never going to do anything brilliant and the other parties are just going against them and causing chaos;” after all, “no-one’s ever going to say it’s an amazing deal, unless we somehow get out of the EU, don’t pay for the divorce and get all the luxuries, which is never going to happen.” At the same time, for all the talk of “Norway Plus Plus and Canada Minus”, few on either side believed there was any prospect of the EU agreeing to substantially improved terms: the choice was between this deal or something very much like it, and no deal at all.

“It’s not the apocalypse. Calm down.”

Most Remain voters were not as terrified about a no-deal Brexit as might have been expected given the increasingly frantic tone of some coverage. There were some qualms, however: “People stranded at airports, suddenly you can’t get avocados, people can’t get antibiotics or insulin. Can’t get Marmite from Unilever. Can’t get literally anything because of just-in-time manufacturing;” “The farmers will be weeping into their smocks, or whatever farmers wear;” “It would be absolute chaos for a good month;” “If we couldn’t get bananas we would get over it but it would be damned annoying. I like bananas.”

More often, people tended to think that predictions of disaster were either wildly pessimistic – the Millennium Bug was regularly invoked – or deliberate scaremongering: “Things are sensationalised to make us feel uneasy. They want people feeling fed up, feeling that they’ve made a mistake, questioning their choices, questioning the reasons they made that decision in the first place.” Any disruption would probably be shortlived: “If and when it came to it, I think the country and the companies within these other countries would pull together;” “If it’s imports or holidays, other countries would soon kick off if all that stopped;” “It’s not the apocalypse. Calm down.”

Real problems were more likely to come from people’s reactions to the scare stories than as a direct result of Brexit: “The country will go into panic mode. It will be Joe Public who causes the chaos. Like when you get an inch of snow and suddenly all the shelves in your corner shop are empty.”

Leave voters were rather more bullish about the idea of leaving without a deal: “We’ve had all this stuff about taking the Queen out of Buckingham Palace in a helicopter because of all the looting. It’s all made up;” “They said it would be a disaster if we didn’t join the euro!” They also argued that it simply wasn’t in Europe’s interests for trade to be disrupted: “Everyone’s making out that we’re going to be ostracised but they still want to trade with us as much as we want to trade with them” – indeed, some argued, the EU’s current intransigence actually confirmed how much they wanted the UK to stay and therefore how much they needed us: “We’re the front wheel of a Reliant Robin.”

Even so, not all Leave voters were gung-ho on this point. On both sides there was a widespread feeling of uncertainty: “I just feel like we’ve got no idea.” Though some plans for no deal may be in place, “the whole process hasn’t instilled confidence. Unfortunately the government doesn’t fill us with confidence, and that’s the problem.”

“This has to come to an end.”

Despite this, very few Leavers and surprisingly few Remainers supported the idea of extending Article 50 to give more time for negotiations. Some said this might help if there were “honest negotiations”, with a clear way forward and a real chance that the situation would be resolved, but otherwise “it’s just dragging it out, prolonging the agony.” Moreover, the new deadline would then be no more real than the old one: “what’s stopping you the next day voting for another extension?” “We will punt it every time.”

What, then, did people expect to happen in the end? They had noted the huge defeat for the deal in the Commons, the lack of movement on the EU side, the seeming intractability of the Irish border question and the continuing divisions within and between the parties at Westminster.

Yet most of the people in most of our groups – remain and leave, Conservative and Labour – thought we would end up leaving with some sort of deal. And whether there was a delay or not, it would probably look more or less like the deal currently on the table, with a few small changes at the very last minute to allow it to get through parliament, even if a few loose ends remain to be tied up afterwards: “It will be at the eleventh hour, but they’ll come up with something;” “The EU will always compromise towards the end. They want their £39 billion;” “They’ll give her the legal assurances she needs to get it through at the very last minute. We’ve seen them do it so many times, like when Greece went bankrupt;” “I think things will move in the next couple of weeks, quite dramatically possibly. I think minds will focus.

Betrayal of Brexit manifesto commitments would be catastrophic for the Conservative Party

The following is an open letter to Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis from Cllr Bob Perry and a host of other Conservative Party activists (as listed at the bottom)    Dear Mr Lewis, We, the undersigned, write to you as long-standing, dedicated, voluntary members of the Conservative Party. We have serious concerns over the direction […]

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The following is an open letter to Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis from Cllr Bob Perry and a host of other Conservative Party activists (as listed at the bottom)   

Dear Mr Lewis,

We, the undersigned, write to you as long-standing, dedicated, voluntary members of the Conservative Party.

We have serious concerns over the direction of the Brexit negotiations and the impact this will have on our party. Specifically, we are deeply worried about the impact of extending Article 50 beyond 29th March 2019 and reports that the Government is seeking a ‘customs arrangement’ with the EU and may reach out to the Labour Party.

The British people spoke to us very clearly on 23rd June 2016 and gave us a mandate to leave the European Union: no customs arrangements, no deals. As has been said many times before, the British people did not vote for a deal, they voted to Leave.

This is extremely troubling as the Prime Minister has committed to leaving the Customs Union and to attempt to tie us to any form of ‘customs arrangement’ would be seen as a shameful sidestep through semantics.

People across Britain have been promised time after time that we will be leaving the EU on 29th March 2019 – almost three years after voting to Leave. Voters have waited long enough for this important day to come and any extension – no matter how short – will be seen as a duplicitous act of betrayal.

Trust in politicians is at an all-time low, and how politicians of all political parties have dealt with Brexit is a major reason for this. You must not underestimate the damage any extension will have on the Conservative Party in future elections. Make no mistake – it will be catastrophic.

This year’s local elections in May are the biggest cycle of local elections and involve seats won at a high-water mark in 2015. We fear that any perceived betrayal of manifesto commitments could well result in severe electoral defeats for Conservative candidates.

Remaining in a customs union or ‘customs arrangement’ with the EU will leave Britain unable to negotiate, sign and implement free trade deals with the rest of the world. This is one of the key economic benefits of Brexit and would lead to lower prices for consumers in the long term. This is a red line that must not be breached.

The British people have waited three years to enjoy the benefits of life outside of the EU and for a Conservative Government to prevent this would be an unforgivable betrayal. We urge the party to reverse this avoidable collision course with the British electorate, before it is too late. Ignore us at your peril.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr. Bob Perry (Chairman Hornchurch & Upminster Conservative Association)

Cllr Lord Ampthill (Rother District Council)
Della Jones MBE (former Conservative County Councillor)
Delyth Miles (District & Town Councillor for Walton)
Ron Barker (Party member and former Executive Officer)
Michael A. St. Clair-George
Ian Hunter (Colchester Conservatives)
Margaret Chatham and Peter Chatham (Nuneaton Conservative Association)
Stewart Drennan
Bexhill & Battle Conservative Association (Heathfield, Cross in Hand and Five Ashes Branch)
David J. Kelly (South Staffordshire Conservative Association)
Margaret (Trent Valley)
Mary S V Baxter (former Chairman Ledbury & Old Gore Branch, former Management Executive, North Herefordshire Association)
Angela C W Morris (Former constituency deputy chairman (political) and Branch Chairman)
John Wilkinson (Party member)
Guy Shimmin (Torquay Party member)
Giles Rowe (Party member)
David Rees (Party member)
HH The Lord Parmoor (President of Wycombe Conservative Association)
Ken Worthy (Chairman, Claygate and Hinchley Wood branch, Esher and Walton)
John Waine (Party member)
Fennie Strange (Party member)
Robert Flunder (Party member)
Peter Hole (Conservative activist and member)
Simon Hornshaw (Fylde Conservative Association)
Eric Lowe (Party member)
Annabelle Meek (Party member, former Deputy Chairman and Fundraiser)
Dr D Ratcliff (Party member)
S Ratliff (Party member)
Nigel Shaw (Party member)
Robert Johnson (Party Member)
Theresa Sargent (Party Member and volunteer)
Mrs. Anthea Kemp (Party member)
R A Baggott (Cotswold Association)
John Carpenter (Party member, Sleaford and North Hykeham)
Robert Sawle (Party member and former election agent)
Richard Mackenzie
Roger Duckworth
Richard Reeves (Party member, Bexhill and Battle)
Diane Reeves (Party member, Bexhill and Battle)
Jeremy Knapp (South Suffolk)
Cynthia Beesley and Derek Beesley (Llandudno)
Dr David Seawright

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Principles for reselections and deselections

The problem of Tory MPs who backed the Party’s pro-Brexit manifesto, voted for Article 50 and then for the EU Withdrawal Bill cannot simply be brushed aside.

Some believe that MPs are representatives, who must take decisions that they believe to be right, regardless of the view of their local Association.  Others hold that MPs are delegates, who must represent the Association’s view.  Burke’s famous speech to the electors of Bristol is an exemplar of the first view, and we bow to the wisdom of the grandfather of modern conservatism – almost.

There is more than a whiff of blue Corbynism – or should we say purple Corbynism? – about some of the demands for the deselection of some MPs.  A Conservative Party with a pro-Brexit wing only is unlikely to appeal in Remain-tilting London and the South-East…just as one with an anti-Brexit wing only would be in even bigger trouble, from the point of view of the beliefs of most of its members as well as in the Leave-voting provinces of England (and Wales).

But the problem of Conservative MPs who backed the Party’s pro-Brexit manifesto, voted for Article 50 and then for the EU Withdrawal Bill cannot simply be brushed aside.

Rightly or wrongly, we are very reluctant to get into individual cases.  But local Association members considering deselecting or reselecting their Conservative MP might want to ask some of the following questions.

If the MP in question is pro-Remain, did he or she say so in their manifesto in 2017?  Did he vote for Article 50?  If he is voting regularly against the whip, is he doing so in way that contradicts his previous commitments? If his manifesto committed him to supporting Brexit, and he voted for Article 50, but is now seeking to resile on his previous position, local members would be entitled to take a very unfavourable view indeed – and back deselection.

If the MP is pro-Soft Brexit that is not, in our view, at all the same thing.  There is a variety of views about how Brexit should be undertaken among Conservative voters – and potential Conservative voters too – and a Parliamentary Party that backed only one of them would be very narrow.  The difficulty for pro-Soft Brexit MPs comes if they can reasonably be believed to be working with pro-Remain ones who seek to frustrate Brexit despite previous commitments to it, and if local members feel that the former are thereby making revocation more likely.

Above all, local activists should be asking a range of other questions that are not about Brexit at all.  Does the local MP work hard?  Is he committed to the constituency?  Is he active in promoting local causes?  Brexit is vital, but the Tories can’t be a one issue party.

Having said that we are unwilling to get into individual cases, we end by breaking our rule – in order to point out that in nearly every case in which a local MP is in trouble over his views on Brexit, it turns out that there is a pre-history of strained relations over other matters too.

This seems to be so in the case of Nick Boles, about which a mass of information has headed this website’s way.  We are absolutely not in favour of deselecting one of the Conservatives’ most original MPs – and one who is a Soft Brexiteer, please note, not a Remainer.

But we can’t help wondering that a central issue in his story may be whether he really wants to stay on as MP for Grantham and Stamford or not.  It looks as though we will find out very soon.

James Bundy: A Department for the Union would strengthen our United Kingdom

It would be responsible for promoting the British brand right across the country – and there is a lot to promote.

James Bundy is a student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, the national chairman of Conservative Future Scotland, and the former chairman of the St. Andrews Conservative and Unionist Association.

Our proud Union has been the envy of the world for over 300 years. Our monarchy, our courts, our universities and our parliamentary democracy are known as some of the finest institutions the world has ever produced. Our Union, however, is under grave threat. Scottish nationalists are doing their utmost to tear away the fabrics that bring our union together. Northern Ireland feels like it is slowly moving into the hands of reunification with the 26 counties of the Republic. Poor Wales is never mentioned in the national media unless its sports teams are doing well. The debate surrounding our departure of the European Union has brought an emergence of English nationalism which would shamefully break up our United Kingdom if it ensured a clean break from Brussels.

As Conservatives and Unionists, we must do all we can to protect, defend and strengthen our United Kingdom. We must recognise the greatest threat to our Union and do all that we can to respond to it. A patriotic campaign which promotes British culture is required, but we must also come up with practical solutions to ensure that our Union is suitable for the future. The creation of the Department for the Union in Whitehall – first advocated by the MP for Stirling, Stephen Kerr – is an approach which fulfils both these requirements.

Leaving the European Union is the greatest threat to our Union today, but our departure will also save our United Kingdom in the long-term. This sounds like a contradictory statement, but it is not. Membership of the European Union has saw our Union slowly drift apart and this would have continued if we decided to remain. British culture has been evaporating bit by bit and has been replaced by a European culture which embraces secularism and republicanism. The drastic drop in those who believe in Christianity, the decline of Christian moral values and the growing calls for a future republic all demonstrate this culturally change.

Without our wonderful and unique British culture, the United Kingdom would stand for very little, if not nothing. Our Union, which used to be the envy of the world, would be known as simply another European country. Pride in being British would diminish much further and people would desperately seek identity of any sorts – be it Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Mancunian, Scouse and so on. An environment like this would have played right into the hands of the nationalist movements. Our decision to leave the European Union brings an opportunity to halt the dilution of our culture, creating a level playing field in the long-term battle of identity. This battle is one we must win to preserve our United Kingdom.

After we leave the European Union, we may end up in a scenario whereby European standards are not the minimum standards. The SNP have already cried ‘power grab’ when the UK Government announced plans to maintain common standards in fishing and farming across our United Kingdom. The terminology ‘power grab’ is absurd, as these powers lay in Brussels – not Holyrood – but it does highlight that there is potential for a constitutional crisis. Some Unionists have argued that this is why we must remain members of the European Union, but no country should rely on an international organisation to maintain its internal market. Rather than hide and wish the problems go away, we must confront the challenges that are before us and do so convincingly.

A Department for the Union would allow the Government to address both the cultural and constitutional aspects of our United Kingdom. The department would be responsible for promoting the British brand across the country – and there is a lot to promote. A permanent member of the UN Security Council, being of the sixth largest economy in the world, the second biggest military budget in NATO, membership of the Commonwealth, a country that meets the UN’s aid spending target, and an arts and sporting sector which pushes above its weight, to name a few. The new department would be responsible for cross-Governmental cooperation between Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and our Overseas Territories. Protecting our internal market and ensuring that all parts of our United Kingdom work together post-Brexit rather than against each other.

As Unionists, we must do all that we can do to make people feel proud to be British. As Conservatives, we must do all that we can do to ensure that our United Kingdom functions properly. Our departure of the European Union was a cry from the British people for national renewal. As Conservatives and Unionists, let’s deliver this national renewal by creating the Department for the Union.

The Malthouse Compromise explained

After readers sought further detail of the so-called ‘Malthouse Compromise’ proposals being pushed by figures representing a broad cross-section of opinion on matters European within the ranks of the Conservative Party in Parliament, BrexitCentral has obtained a document which should answer some of the questions being raised. I understand that the summary document that follows […]

The post The Malthouse Compromise explained appeared first on BrexitCentral.

After readers sought further detail of the so-called ‘Malthouse Compromise’ proposals being pushed by figures representing a broad cross-section of opinion on matters European within the ranks of the Conservative Party in Parliament, BrexitCentral has obtained a document which should answer some of the questions being raised.

I understand that the summary document that follows has been cleared by all six participants in its production: European Research Group stalwarts Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker; Remain-backing ministers Stephen Hammond and Robert Buckland; Treasury Committee Chair and former Cabinet Minister Nicky Morgan; and Leave-backing minister Kit Malthouse, who brokered the discussions that brought the group together…

= = = = = 

Parliament may shortly face a binary choice over leaving the European Union with an agreed Withdrawal Agreement (WA) or without one. 

Many MPs find the WA in its current form unacceptable. Indeed the Commons have rejected it by a large majority. Others find the possible economic and logistical disruption of an exit without any WA equally troubling.

For too long the Brexit debate and negotiations have been stymied by a collective gamble over this choice. Each side of a naturally binary debate – Leave/Remain – was manoeuvring around this fallback arrangement in the event of the WA’s failing, to the extent that the WA itself was being neglected and consensus could not emerge about what it should and should not contain.

Our intention therefore was to create a degree of optionality to mitigate the binary quality of that choice – and to do so in a way in which those on both sides could accept a package as a whole that sought to address their concerns. The idea is that each side will find in the package proposals that they might not consider ideal but will find acceptable.

In this way we hope a consensus will emerge across the House and that we can have an eminently reasonable set of options to present to our EU partners which could command a majority – something the EU have quite rightly been asking to see for some time.

The structure of the compromise is to offer the EU a choice of two plans: Plan A is predicated on achieving agreement on a WA that addresses the principal weakness of the current version, the perpetual character of the Irish backstop, and its consequences for the Future Relationship between the UK and the EU. Plan B assumes that agreement on a WA is not possible and that both sides accept a responsibility to act so as to minimise as far as possible the disruption that might arise to people and businesses in the EU and the UK.

Both Plan A and Plan B involve the UK’s ceasing to be a Member State of the EU according to the timetable set by Article 50 of the treaties, that is on 29th March 2019.

In order therefore – Plan A – “The Deal”:

Essentially we would offer the existing WA with two changes:

First we would extend the implementation period until no later than December 2021. This would involve more money, but also provide a longer period to agree the Future Relationship (FR), with an immovable deadline to act as an incentive for talks.

Second, to address the backstop, we recognise the legitimate concern on both sides of the border on the island of Ireland about the effects of Brexit on the settled border arrangements, and the profound commitment of all parties to the Belfast Agreement. However, it is clear that the current formulation of the backstop is not acceptable to the Commons, and some of the suggested solutions to this problem essentially mean the backstop isn’t a backstop at all. We therefore propose a different basis for the backstop that is capable of being permanent. In essence the nature of the new backstop is a basic free trade agreement and a brief is attached at Appendix 1. It is important to note that the NI border arrangement requires no new technology and relies on existing administrative processes. 

All else in the WA remains the same, including, very importantly a guarantee of EU and British citizens’ rights.

If this is not acceptable to the EU, or they require more time to consider it, we would propose our Plan B:

Plan B essentially creates a transitional standstill period, at the end of which the UK would overnight become a third country in practice but during which we would have time to avoid disruption in a number of ways:

1. We would keep Plan A on offer for as long as the EU was willing to consider it,
2. We would offer to pay our net contribution (c. £10bn p.a.) in exchange for the Implementation Period as negotiated, until no later than Dec 2021, as a standstill period,
3. We would also offer legal text to support a GATT Art XXIV “zero for zero” temporary arrangement for execution either at the start of the standstill in the event the negotiated implementation period could not be secured, or at the end of the standstill if the future relationship had not been concluded (more here),
4. Both sides would prepare for WTO terms fully.
5. We would create an opportunity to discuss our future relationship with the EU as it would apply from the end of the standstill period.

This transitional period would last until the end of December 2021, during which time we would pay our net EU budget contribution, and cover our other liabilities subject to arbitration (pensions etc), and we would “stand still” on everything else – so we would remain a member of the customs union and single market, and the various other arrangements to do with security, aviation and so on. Again very importantly we would unilaterally guarantee EU citizens’ rights.

In essence this structure throws a safety net around “No Deal” diffusing the drama and mitigating the possible damage on both sides, with plenty of time allowed to agree a future relationship, which is the desired outcome for everyone. It also allows other non-EU countries to see that the UK has proposed something eminently reasonable which protects our supply chains.

If this structure of two deals is offered to the EU, we would expect it to receive serious consideration by those concerned to achieve a resolution that works for both the UK and EU. Plan A is reasonable and workable and addresses the legitimate concerns about the Irish border. Plan B provides a transitional period in which we can settle remaining differences without unnecessary economic damage or logistical difficulties, retaining optionality for all sides. In both cases there is no prejudging of the form of the FR. Maintenance of the Common Travel Area on the island of Ireland is also an important part of both plans.

The only other option is slamming the door, which would seem irrational and unfair given that the EU have pledged to use best endeavours to agree a smooth and civilized exit. On this basis, given the widespread support for this compromise, and the demonstrated majority for it, we would welcome the opportunity to develop it further with the Prime Minister such that it could be offered to our EU allies as a profoundly reasonable solution.

Appendix 1: The New Backstop

  • A revised Withdrawal Agreement (WA) which can be negotiated with the EU, thus avoiding No Deal and honouring the referendum result, whilst protecting the national interest.
  • Our proposed new backstop would guarantee departure from the Customs Union, Single Market and all EU rule-making for the entire UK.
  • It can be negotiated because it builds on the EU’s own offer (rather than asking them to compromise the single market) and the concept has already been positively received by the EU privately (they will not publicly back it whilst a permanent customs union is on the table).
  • It retains the vast majority of the draft WA but crucially removes the four poison pills that have prevented the draft WA from finding widespread support in Parliament and the country at large.
  • One of the reasons that Parliament is hostile to the Prime Minister’s current proposal is that it would place the UK in a “single customs territory” by virtue of the backstop, giving the EU no incentive to make concessions in future trade negotiations (thereby putting UK interests such as fishing at great risk). It should be noted that any single customs territory that is not the full Customs Union will require checks and customs certificates, such as Turkey is required to use.
  • This alternative WA proposes a new Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with zero tariffs and no quantitative import restrictions, and a Customs and Trade Facilitation Chapter that will deploy advanced customs and trade facilitation measures which include specific solutions for the Irish border, so the leverage would be the same on both sides. It also addresses the non-regression clauses so as to make them two-way and of the language that would be used in any trade agreement, allowing any potential end state arrangement.
  • The new backstop does not imperil the Union as it represents a permanent solution to the Northern Ireland / Ireland border making it both a backstop and a frontstop. It does not require any differences between NI and GB beyond those that exist today.
  • The new backstop will include a Free Trade Agreement in Goods, a Customs and Trade Facilitation Chapter, as well as: commitment by all parties not to place infrastructure on the Northern Ireland border; the UK adopting EU rules of origin; regulatory recognition such as in sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures; in facility and inland clearance; and level playing field provisions on areas such as labour – in other words normal practice in FTAs.
  • This reformed WA is likely to command a majority in the House of Commons – it is already supported by both leave-backing and remain-backing MPs and, crucially, the DUP.

The main changes to Withdrawal Agreement:

1. No “single customs territory” between the UK and the EU, allowing the UK to regain control over its tariffs and regulations which are required to carry out negotiations for trade agreements with other countries. This makes the UK a credible trade partner for third countries after 29th March 2019.

2. A new backstop to replace the Northern Ireland Protocol which is based on what the permanent solution to the Irish border should be. This maintains the territorial integrity of the UK and allows the UK to regain control over its tariffs and regulation. Crucially to address the concerns of the Republic of Ireland, this arrangement is capable of being permanent – a frontstop – It includes:

  • a free trade agreement in goods: zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions, providing for tariff-free trade in goods plus UK-EU regulatory cooperation.
  • no infrastructure on the Irish border: a commitment by all parties not to place infrastructure on the border.
  • regulatory recognition based on deemed equivalence because we will be identical on day one of Brexit: on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) and animal health measures and mutual recognition of conformity assessment, with measures to ensure that the animal health and disease control zone on the island of Ireland can be maintained.
  • level playing field provisions: on labour, the environment, competition and state aid, consistent with normal practice in FTAs, as opposed to the highly one-sided commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement.
  • a Customs and Trade Facilitation Chapter with an Irish border protocol: an agreement to deploy advanced customs and trade facilitation measures, including specific solutions for the Irish border.

This will allow us to use a range of proven solutions for our customs procedures, while reducing the burden of formalities on traders and avoiding congestion at ports, and include the principle that any necessary formalities and inspections are carried out with the minimum of delay and, to the maximum extent possible, away from the border. This will employ:

  • Inter-agency cooperation and information sharing, and recognition of the other party’s inspections and documents for certification of conformity with country or import or export
  • Simplified procedures and data processing at departure and destination for the import, export and transit of goods
  • Expedited procedures for qualifying operators, with mutual recognition of trusted trader schemes like authorised economic operator (AEO) programmes, and making them available to as many traders as possible
  • Self-assessment for importers to declare imports periodically and account for duties payable, plus support to encourage uptake
  • Inland, in-facility checks and participating in EU systems (such as TRACES) so all SPS related goods will be registered with these systems
  • Inland, in-facility checks for small businesses (who are already filling out VAT forms)
  • Adherence to international standards of the WTO and other appropriate bodies
  • Special facilitations for specific sectors like agriculture.

3. We would propose and extension of the Implementation Period to 31 December 2021, but no further.

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John Strafford: The Conservative Party no longer belongs to its members. No wonder it faces an existential crisis.

If we do not leave the E.U. on terms that are acceptable to the members of the Party, large numbers will leave it. Here’s how we got here.

John Strafford is Chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy.

The Conservative Party faces an unprecedented existential threat. This arises because there is a wide gap between the hierarchy of the Party, backed by parts of the Parliamentary Party, and the voluntary Party members. The hierarchy of the Party includes the Leader, Party Chairman, Deputy Chairmen, Vice Chairmen, and Treasurer, none of whom have been elected by the members. The backbenchers are reliant on the hierarchy for their promotion within the Party and in Government, and so are mainly deferential to that hierarchy.

The gap between the hierarchy and the members has been growing for the last 20 years since the introduction of the Party’s constitution, and has been brought to a head by Brexit. Roughly 60 per cent of the hierarchy and Parliamentary Party supported remaining in the E.U, whilst 70 per cent of the members of the Party want to leave the E.U. If we do not leave the E.U. on terms that are acceptable to the members of the Party, large numbers will leave it – hence the existential threat. How have we arrived at this appalling situation? We must go back to 1998 to see how this gap was created.

Once the 1998 constitution was brought in, CCHQ began to demolish all lines of communication between the members and the hierarchy. All the checks and balances which existed prior to 1998 were abolished. Pre-1998, the annual Party Conference was organised and run by the National Union (i.e: the voluntary Party). It invited the Leader and other Ministers to speak at the conference. There were motions for debate tabled at the conference and published in a handbook. Votes were taken on the motions. After CCHQ took over, 1999 was the last Conference at which we had motions for debate.

So what else happened after 1998?

The Central Council of voluntary members met twice a year and the Party Chairman and other Ministers used to attend. It consisted of several thousand members, including representatives of the Women’s Organisation, Young Conservatives and others and at which motions for debate on Party organisation were tabled. It was abolished.

The National Union Executive Committee which was regularly addressed by the Party Leader and had elected representatives by the membership was abolished.

Regional meetings for Party members which used to be held four times a year and which had officers elected by the members, motions for debate etc, were all abolished with a couple of exceptions.

Regional meetings of the Conservative Political Centre (CPC) which had officers elected by the members and which discussed policy issues were abolished, also with a couple of exceptions.

The National Committee of the CPC which had members elected by the membership of the Party and which had meetings with the Leader was abolished.

The Annual Conference of the CPC which any member could attend and which was addressed by Ministers was abolished.

The Spring Forum 2019 has been cancelled.

All the lines of communication between the Party hierarchy and the ordinary membership of the Party have been eliminated.

One of the main reasons CCHQ wanted control was so that they could control the Conservative MPs. Prior to 1998, constituency associations had effective control of their candidates in a general election. This issue came to a head in the general election of 1997 when CCHQ asked the Tatton Constituency Association to drop Neil Hamilton as their candidate. They refused, and Hamilton was defeated by Martin Bell.

Under the new Constitution, CCHQ was determined to take control ,and this came to a head just before the general election of 2005 when Howard Flight had the Conservative whip withdrawn by Michael Howard – thereby removing his right to stand as a Conservative candidate.

The Leader not only controls Conservative MPs but also, through the Party Board, aanyone who wishes to become a MP, because the Board appoints the Chairman of the Candidates Committee which determines who may be a Conservative Candidate.

In the 20 years since 1998 there have been five general elections. The Conservative Party has won one of them. In the 20 years prior to the constitution there were five general elections. The Conservative Party won four of them.

In promoting the benefits of being a member of the Conservative Party, it is always pointed out that you can elect the Leader of the Party. However, in every recent leadership election to date there have been attempts to frustrate the members’ rights.

In 1998, when William Hague introduced the new constitution, he was anointed by the membership, a year after his election by MPs, without any competitor. In 2001, Michael Portillo was the front runner and the MPs wanted the run off to be between him and Iain Duncan-Smith, so they transferred votes from Portillo to Duncan-Smith. The result was that Portillo lost by one vote to Ken Clarke. In 2003, Michael Howard was the only name put forward, so the members didn’t get a vote.

In 2005, Michael Howard tried to change the Party Constitution so that MPs would have the final say on who should be Leader. The change was defeated. In 2016, only one name came forward, so the members didn’t get a vote. Not a good record for Party democracy is it?

At a local level, many Associations have dispensed with holding adoption meetings, so members no longer have a say on whether their MP should continue.

I have mentioned the gap that exists between the Party hierarchy and the membership of the Party. That gap has been growing for the last 20 years and Brexit has brought it to a head – but the issues at stake range wider than is Brexit. Traditional Conservative principles seem to have been forgotten. Now we have regulation poured onto regulation – the State gets ever bigger. I am reminded of Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom in which he explains that at the end of the road, after regulation has been imposed on regulation, you end up with a totalitarian state, tyranny and dictatorship. I can see the end of the road.

Now, before it is too late, is the time to reform the Conservative Party. We must close the gap between the party hierarchy and the members. That can only happen with member involvement.

We can start by having an Annual General Meeting to which all Party members are invited We can elect the Party Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Treasurer, Chairman of Candidates and Chairman of the Conservative Policy Forum and make them accountable to Party members. We can have a Party Conference at which members can table motions for debate and on which votes are taken, but most of all: we must have a Constitution, which can be amended on the basis of One Member One Vote. That is democracy. Without it, the Conservative Party will slowly drain away down the plug hole of history.

Nick Hargrave: Conservative moderates need to help change our Party. Here’s how to start doing it.

Our party will not be able to speak for Britain as it really is, and as it will increasingly come to be, unless we make some efforts to reflect this in our membership.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street Special adviser where he worked for both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works for Portland, the communications consultancy.

It is fair to say that Conservatives like me are a little dissatisfied with the direction of our party at the moment..

On Europe, we cannot fathom why our Government is prepared to even countenance burning a sturdy record of economic competence on the altar of No Deal.

On public spending, we sigh about the state of affairs in which no tax rise can ever be countenanced – no matter how sensible, marginal or necessary – to fund our public services.

On immigration and identity, we worry that very reasonable concerns about control have morphed into a less acceptable place; that the United Kingdom will be seen in the years to come as less open, diverse and welcoming because of policies taken too far.

And above all, we are sad that the fundamental Conservative tenets of the nineteenth and twentith centuries – moderation, competence and responsibility – are losing out to dogma and obsession.

The trouble with Conservatives like me is that we have not been very good in recent years in translating this concern into concrete action.

We have tended to write long plaintive articles that despair at our drift away from modernising principles, laced with unkind digs about the composition of our grassroots.  In recent months, this has been accompanied by concerned tutting when Cabinet ministers – who we would previously have identified as sensible – position themselves for a future leadership election by pretending that leaving the European Union without a deal wouldn’t be so bad after all.

This is certainly cathartic. But it’s not a very constructive way of moving forward. Decisions are taken by people who show up; not least on our Leader and future parliamentary candidates. If we want to keep our party anchored in the centre as a moderate force, then we’re going to have to do something about getting people who share our values through the door as Conservative members.

We should establish some clarity on what this means.

First, we should not tie ourselves up in knots on the definition of a ‘moderate’. It inevitably leads to an arid debate on demographics and runs the risk of narrowing the tent rather than broadening it. As a starter for ten, I would simply suggest that the best way of thinking about moderation is balance to reflect the growing values divide in Britain today. You don’t need an academic paper – although there are several you could reference such as the 2017 British Election Study – to understand that there is a growing divergence of opinion on attitudes to diversity, integration and the nation state. The greatest separator of these values is age. Our party will not be able to speak for Britain as it really is, and as it will increasingly come to be, unless we make some efforts to reflect this in our membership. Given that over three quarters of our members are over the age of 45, according to the Party Members Project at Queen Mary University, it is surely sensible now to prioritise recruitment for those under 45.Qu

Second, this is not about building a mass membership movement to take on Momentum. It’s difficult to recruit people to a cause when you have been in Government for nine years and had to take difficult decisions; even more so when your party’s position on Brexit puts off a lot of the people that you are going to need to attract. So let’s be realistic. There are currently 317 Conservative MPs in the Commons. If each were set a target of recruiting one person under the age of 45 a week into the party over the next two years, then we would have over 30,000 new members. Although the total number of Conservative members is a perennially fuzzy question, that would certainly be a substantial voting weight in future leadership elections.

Third, given the national blockage in our politics caused by our departure from the European Union, micro tactics on a constituency level are going to be much more effective at the start of this endeavour than a grand strategic project. It would be nice to position ourselves on a national level with policies that are modern and relevant. But for now I do not think they are going to cut through the communications noise as we move onto the next stage of Brexit psychosis in future relationship negotiations (and if we leave without a deal then this noise will only be intensified).

As just one example of a micro tactic, CCHQ’s young local campaign managers should be responsible for building links on the ground with young local entrepreneurs who are starting up businesses. Most new entrepreneurs will tell you that the things they would value above all are start-up capital, a network of established business people that can mentor – and space to work away from home. It is surely not beyond the wit of humankind for the Conservative Party, with the current assets it has, to assist and build relationships on these fronts.

Fourth, before anyone gets too excited, this is not an attempt to sway the results of the next Conservative leadership election; which one way or another you would expect to come before the year is out. This is clearly going to take more time than that. All I would say to the current crop of Downing Street hopefuls – falling over themselves to promise Brexit unicorns that will disappoint in the long run – is that you might be better off focusing on the next leadership election but one.

Finally, all of this has to be done with good grace and respect. Our current party membership work hard, pay their subs and – although I disagree with a lot of them on some important national issues at the moment – are decent people who care about the future of our country. We need them in the tent. So much of the division in our politics today is driven by the atomisation of the lives we need. We don’t talk face to face as much as we used to, preferring to sit at our screens and retreat to ideological barricades in the comfort of our moral certainty. Getting a greater mix of people into local Conservative associations on the ground, realistic in its scope and clear in its objectives, might be a useful start towards a better dialogue and sustainable electoral success.

The Conservative grassroots expect the Government to ensure we are out of the EU on 29th March

As a loyal Conservative activist since the age of 18, I do not want to see the party I love torn apart and there is no need for it to be so. On Tuesday evening the party came together to vote for the Brady amendment. Parliament and the party have shown that for us to […]

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As a loyal Conservative activist since the age of 18, I do not want to see the party I love torn apart and there is no need for it to be so. On Tuesday evening the party came together to vote for the Brady amendment. Parliament and the party have shown that for us to move forward the ‘backstop’ must be removed and replaced with alternative arrangements as set out in detail in the Malthouse Compromise. This gives the Prime Minister a way forward to ensure we Leave the EU on the 29th March 2019 with a deal.

However, our UK negotiating team thus far have made some serious errors and that is why eurosceptics felt confident enough to vote for the Brady amendment based on the fact that the negotiating team would be changed. So, this needs to happen, or Brussels will ignore us again. It is positive that Remainers and Leavers have come together with the Malthouse Compromise which seeks to reassure all sides’ concerns and helps us leave keeping our promises intact.

In proposing a motion to the governing body of the Conservative Party, the National Convention, I have sought to do the same. The motion provides support to our Prime Minister to deliver on our promises that we should Leave the EU on the 29th March, whilst countering various ‘helpful’ suggestions that only seek to thwart Brexit. It states:

“The National Convention supports the commitments the Prime Minister has made to the country to honour the European Union Referendum result of 2016 so that having triggered Article 50 we will leave the European Union on the 29th March 2019. Another referendum, a delay beyond the European elections, taking ‘no deal’ off the table or not leaving at all would betray the 2016 People’s Vote and damage democracy and our party for a generation.”

The other unacceptable suggestion I should have added is Jeremy Corbyn’s demand that we stay in the Customs Union which, as we well know, is the EU without a vote or veto.

The important thing is that we leave on 29th March. I mentioned the European Elections because, quite frankly, it would be ludicrous if we were still forced to undertake such a process. It would be costly, send the wrong signals and many Conservatives would refuse to campaign.

So, it was disappointing to read a PoliticsHome report on the motion which wrongly claimed that signatories to the motion were ‘willing to stomach’ a delay. Any reader of the motion can see its purpose and intent and we look forward to the debate.

It would be foolish too to take no deal off the table. This is a trap which forces us into a corner with little bargaining power. No wonder the EU love to tell us they won’t tolerate ‘no deal’! And no wonder Corbyn supports taking ‘no deal’ off the table. He does not understand the power play in negotiations. This is the same reason he supported CND. It was not CND that brought the Soviet Union to the negotiating table but Reagan’s Star Wars programme.

The Conservative Party is now united in searching for the best solution to take us out of the EU on the 29th March 2019, ensuring we take back control of our laws. The backstop has to go in its present form and we must not be in the Customs Union, so enabling us to agree far-reaching global trade deals and thus honouring our commitment to the referendum vote of 23rd June 2016. We support the Prime Minister in this endeavour.

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Profile: Philip May, the Prime Minister’s closest and greatest sounding board

He would be averse to leaving without a deal, but even more alarmed by the idea of taking any course of action which risked breaking the Tory Party into fragments.

Philip May is so good at not making himself the story that he seldom appears on the front page of a newspaper, except in photographs of a smiling but uncommunicative figure beside, or slightly behind, the Prime Minister.

He will have been pained by last Sunday’s front-page headline, “Philip May enters No 10 Brexit civil war.” The Sunday Times reported that Gavin Barwell, the Number Ten chief of staff, had accused the Prime Minister’s husband of thwarting a plan to get a cross-party deal with Labour MPs for a Customs Union with the EU.

One source said Barwell “took a pop at Philip May”, while another said, “Philip May was flamed by Barwell for scuppering the outreach to Labour.”

The story was a sign of the extreme pressure inside Number Ten as the Prime Minister and her advisers considered whether to go for Conservative and DUP support, or for a deal with Labour MPs which would infuriate many Conservatives.

In such an argument, Philip May’s instinct would be to preserve Conservative unity. For as one who knows him says, he is “very much a history buff”, well aware that ever since 1846, when Peel split and almost destroyed the Conservative Party, the duty of the Conservative leader is to keep the party together.

With Philip and Theresa May, this is not just a theoretical point. It springs from a tradition of practice. They are Conservative activists who since the 1970s have devoted enormous amounts of time to the generally unsung voluntary side of the party, and to this day do far more canvassing than might be expected when one considers their other commitments.

They could have indicated, in a self-important way, “We have better things to do than knock on doors.” But one of Philip’s characteristics is, as a Cabinet minister puts it, that “although very well-dressed, he is not in the least grand – there’s no side about him”.

The Mays met at Oxford in the autumn of 1976, when Philip arrived at Lincoln College, Oxford, to read History. According to one of his more laid-back contemporaries, in those days “he was blatantly pushy”.

He soon made his mark at the Union, of which in his last term he was elected President, between Alan Duncan, now a Foreign Office minister, and Michael Crick of Channel 4 News.

But although Philip was ambitious, his speeches impressed by their solidity rather than their brilliance. Many undergraduates showed off in a sub-Brideshead manner. He didn’t.

He was born in Norwich and brought up in the Wirral, where he attended Calday Grange Grammar School, founded in 1636. As he related while appearing along with his wife on The One Show during the 2017 general election campaign, his father was a shoe salesman:

“Yes, he worked for a footwear company for the whole of his career in fact. People did in those days. He joined the same company in the late 1940s and went on doing that until the 1980s when he retired.”

Here is a long-term commitment accepted as natural, though no longer fashionable.

Almost as soon as Philip reached Oxford, he met Theresa Brasier, who is 11 months older than him, and in 1974 had gone up to St Hugh’s College to read Geography.

They were introduced to each other by Benazir Bhutto at an Oxford University Conservative Association disco; were married in September 1980 by her father, the Reverend Hubert Brasier; and have remained – as everyone who knows them attests, and as can be seen when one watches the interview quoted above – deeply in love.

They are Anglicans, and on Sunday mornings can be found worshipping at St Andrew’s, Sonning, on the Thames just outside Reading.

While fulfilling this regular commitment, they are often photographed but seldom talk. They just do it.

They supposed when they married they would have children, but the children did not come, and again they do not talk much about this.

Her parents died soon the wedding. Philip became, and has remained, her “rock”. Although their contemporaries thought he was more likely to go into politics than she was, it happened the other way round.

They both took jobs in the City, he at the brokers de Zoete & Bevan, she at the Bank of England. They bought a house in Wimbledon and got involved in local politics. He was made chairman of Durnsford Ward, where she was the Conservative candidate and in 1986 narrowly defeated Labour to gain a seat on Merton Council.

In 1990, Philip became chairman of Wimbledon Conservative Association, where Oliver Colvile, then the local agent, recalls – as Rosa Prince relates in her life of Theresa May – that during the 1992 general election,

“Despite his very demanding City job, Philip took his job as one of my bosses very seriously. We used to speak at least a couple of times a day. When I made the occasional mistake he would dismiss it is ‘fog of war, dear boy, fog of war’.”

Colvile went on to become MP for Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, but lost his seat at the 2017 general election.

In 1989 Theresa won was selected as the candidate in Durham North West, a safe Labour seat. She and Philip spent the two and a half years leading up to the 1992 election travelling between Wimbledon and Durham, often taking friends up for the weekend to stay in the house they had bought in the village of Lanchester.

Rather unusually, she opted to do no hustings with the sitting MP – something the underdog is usually keen to do, in order to become better known.

Her method was to get out the Tory vote by meeting Tory voters in their houses, along with those neighbours the Tories reckoned might be receptive. Already she possessed a strong disinclination to stage a performance for the benefit of the wider public.

Philip was the trailing spouse, but did not opt out. A pattern of loyal support was already in place, which continued once she had been elected in 1997 for the safe Tory seat of Maidenhead.

“Who are the Mayites?” people sometimes ask. The answer is that the main one is called Philip.

He was one of the few men who turned up to the meetings held for the spouses of Conservative MPs. The wife of a Tory MP recalls that Philip was “treated as a precious object” because he was so unusual.

A friend who has known him since Oxford says:

“He’s an extremely shrewd, thoughtful, rather gentle man. He’s politically very alert. He knows where people are coming from when they come into a room.

“He never ever imposes his views on others. He behaves rather gently with other people’s sensibilities. He doesn’t crash around.

“They’re very close. They were already very close at Oxford.  They have very little of the ambitious restlessness that is often associated with senior politicians.”

Theresa uses Philip as a sounding board for her major speeches and major decisions. It is impossible for an outsider to know whether, as I would guess, he confirms what she has already decided to do, or changes her mind.

Chris Wilkins, who wrote speeches for her and was her Director of Strategy, recently described, in a podcast with Anushka Asthana of The Guardian, how he and three other senior advisers including Nick Timothy set about persuading her to call the 2017 general election.

Philip was the most resistant to their case:

“He definitely had the largest reservations of anyone in the room. His point really that he made was that while he could understand all the arguments we were making, we also had to understand what a big risk it was for them as a couple, and he said we had to appreciate that it had taken them years to get to the position of being in Number Ten, and we were asking them to put that all at risk.”

The Prime Minister nevertheless went ahead and called the election, and Philip was there to support her when she discovered to her horror that it left her in a weaker parliamentary position.

On the great question of Brexit, Philip like her was a quiet Remainer. He would be averse to the risk of leaving without a deal, but would be even more alarmed by the idea of taking any course of action which risked breaking the Tory Party into fragments, with anarchy or a Corbyn government the likely consequence.

His greatest influence is probably not on questions of policy, but on her whole style of politics. Philip possesses a quiet wit, and generally knows how to bring a smile to her face.

She herself has said he is very good at knowing when to bring her a cup of tea – perhaps the most uncontentious of all ways in which an English person can demonstrate sympathy and support. Whisky, beans on toast and flowers are also deployed when the appetite for them is discerned.

Like her, he feels an instinctive distaste for the look-at-me-I’m-great style of politics. To him, that would seem bogus. To the British press, this refusal to draw attention to herself by saying interesting things seems wilfully dull.

The large section of the British public which values respectability above originality probably sides with Philip. She herself said, when interviewed by James Cleverly for The House: “I’m not a stand-up comedian. I am Prime Minister.”

When Cleverly ventured to ask her what role her husband plays in her decision making, she bridled:

“I just wondered when you asked me about Philip’s role, whether if I was a male Prime Minister, you would have asked the same question about their wife?”

The answer is that it is still easier, if she chooses to play it that way, for a wife to opt out of that side of things.

But when the pressure is on, any spouse is in danger of getting drawn in, and decades of carefully avoiding the limelight may be set at naught.

Another Oxford friend – a devout Leaver, so inclined at this fraught moment in our island story to be suspicious of Remainers – says of the Prime Minister’s husband:

“Philip is politically combative and not terribly subtle. At certain points he will say, ‘You fight them darling’.”