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Melanie Phillips

After Boris – the essential reset

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The new Tory leader must let Brexit Britain soar

The fall of Boris Johnson has caused various Europhile fanatics to start salivating that the way is now open to reverse Brexit and return the UK into the ever-open arms of the European Union.

The veteran Europhile Lord Heseltine gloated:

…if Boris goes, Brexit goes 

and that Johnson’s departure would likely lead to a 

more positive relationship with Europe

without the UK actually going back into the EU.

He said:

To me, the big and interesting dilemma is the way in which Keir Starmer has been wrong-footed in making these anti-European speeches, as he has, on the basis that he was going to fight Boris Johnson.

Now, of course, the Tory party is going to have to find a new leader. My belief is that there will be a return to sanity towards our policies about Europe which will make Keir Starmer look, I think, rather foolish.

This seems to owe more to Remainer resentment and vengefulness against Johnson than to reality. While Johnson did indeed achieve a personal triumph in extricating the UK from the EU in the teeth of the determined attempt by the Remainer-dominated Parliament to thwart the will of the British people as expressed in the 2016 referendum vote, the implication that no other Conservative leader would be as committed to Brexit is absurd.

More perplexing still was Heseltine’s observation about the Labour party leader, Sir Keir Starmer.

Certainly, Starmer made a big production the other week of declaring that the Labour party would not seek to reopen the Brexit issue. It wouldn’t seek to return to the EU’s free movement rules, he said, nor rejoin the bloc’s single market or customs union.

But he also went on to promise to strike a new veterinary agreement with the EU to ease the export of agri-products over the Irish Sea, as well as secure “mutual recognition of professional qualifications” between the EU and UK.

In addition, his plan to “make Brexit work” included a proposal for a new security pact with Brussels to allow the UK and EU to “share data, intelligence, and best practice” in tackling terrorism, organised crime and people trafficking.

This was all too reminiscent of the stunt he tried to pull at one point during the great Brexit battle in Parliament. For Starmer knew he had a problem. Labour’s working-class voters were solid Brexit supporters. Yet the party’s metropolitan middle-class leadership was overwhelmingly dominated by implacable Remainers. 

He therefore needed to face two ways. Accordingly, he argued that while he completely respected the electorate’s vote to leave the EU, the terms on which the UK left should continue to retain certain ties to the EU. In other words, while exiting the EU the UK would offer Brussels its hands in order to remain manacled to it.

When I put it to him on a TV show that this was a dishonest tactic to remain tied to the EU by stealth — and that only what he termed disparagingly a “hard” Brexit, with no such ties, was a true Brexit — he indignantly denied this as if it was the most outrageous thing he had ever heard. Perhaps because of his legal background — first as a human rights defence lawyer and then as the chief prosecutor for England and Wales — he was able to argue an impossibility with complete conviction. 

He knows that is is now essential for him to draw a line under Brexit if he is to recover the “Red Wall” voters of the northern England working class who abandoned their tribal allegiance to the Labour party to vote for Johnson over Brexit. And his suggestions for closer ties with Brussels were so cautious that they sent Labour’s Remainers into paroxysms of fury and disgust.

Even so, it was a step in the direction of the EU. And that arouses suspicions that, if Labour won the next election, Starmer would cosy up to Brussels and increasingly recreate bits of the relationship to blur and weaken Britain’s ability to go its own way. Which is more or less what Heseltine was suggesting that the new Tory leader would do.

If the Conservative party is actually thinking straight (not something that can be assumed at all) it will understand that it won’t see off Starmer’s Labour party unless the Tories elect a leader and prime minister who will understand two key things about the majority of the British electorate. 

First, whatever view that leader may take about anything, what the public want above all is a government that is competent and run by a prime minister they can trust to hold fast to what he or she believes — and not, as Boris Johnson did, aim to give everyone what they want and pretend that the resulting incoherent shambles is the fault of everyone but the occupant of Number 10.

Second, those who voted for Johnson because he had actually “got Brexit done” became terminally disillusioned and withdrew their support because they saw him squander the chance for Britain to use its newly restored independence to take off economically and free itself from what had held it back for so long.

Instead (and entirely separate from the intense and unforseen pressures caused by Covid and Ukraine) Johnson embraced his inner Islington and produced policies for “levelling up”, higher public spending and a bigger state straight out of the Blairite playbook — while also forcing the elderly and the poor to choose between heating and eating as a result of his lunatic Net Zero policies, which catastrophically drove up fuel prices while threatening to turn out all the lights. 

He did nothing to liberate Britain from the red tape, unaccountable quangocracy and bureaucratic empire building that had held it back for so long. Instead, his government set about shadowing EU practices as closely as possible.  And don’t get me started on identity politics and the culture wars.

If the Tories are to pull themselves out of the electoral mire into which they have slid under Johnson, it is imperative that they now elect a leader who will dump Net Zero; withdraw the UK from the Human Rights Convention in order finally to stop illegal immigration; take the firmest possible line against all those seeking to rip up Britain’s history, traduce its national identity and spread poisonous and intolerant division and intimidation; and use Britain’s independence from the EU to become again a nimble, innovative and creative trading nation.

They have to do what Boris Johnson did before he crashed and burned — make Britain believe in itself again and give it hope in its future.

If the Tories don’t do this, then the very real possibility looms of a Labour /LibDem/SNP/Green coalition, which will indeed try — with the aid of the Remainer establishment which remains dominant throughout corporate, media and state-subsided Britain — to reverse Brexit by stealth.

Oh — and the prospect would also loom of extending the franchise to 16 year-olds, so that Britain would endure the politics of infantilism for ever.

Do the Tories understand how bold, independent-minded and courageous they’re going to have to be when they choose their new leader if they are to avoid this dire prospect? 

On their recent form, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

The original article can be viewed HERE