Candidates to replace Theresa May have this weekend entered an arms race for who can take the most extreme positions on Brexit as they pitch to the 160,000 Conservative Party members who will take the ultimate decision about who will be the next Prime Minister.
But three Conservative leaders, with real experience of running major spending departments and decision making at the highest level, have intervened to warn that any attempt to press ahead with a no deal crash out Brexit – or to fight a general election on such a platform – would likely end in catastrophe for both their party leader and their country.
Chancellor Philip Hammond, Justice Secretary David Gauke and former Education Secretary Justine Greening between them emphasised that Conservatives cannot now risk trying to force a no deal Brexit on the British people by running the clock down – or by ignoring Parliament - because the consequences for business and public finances would be hung around the party’s neck for a generation to come.
Nor can Conservatives risk a General Election when the Brexit question is not settled because such a campaign would be fought either under attack from Farage or in alliance with him – and either would result in a government led by Jeremy Corbyn.
The last few months have shown there is no majority in Parliament for any form of Brexit, including both a no deal departure and the Prime Minister’s revised deal. Efforts to force either through now are likely to weaken further the Conservative party. That is why compromise is now needed.
Chancellor Philip Hammond MP told Andrew Marr:
“The European Union will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, I’m quite clear about that.
“This is a Parliamentary democracy. A Prime Minister who ignores Parliament cannot expect to survive very long.”
Justice Secretary David Gauke MP warned:
“To leave the EU with a deal, we need a parliamentary majority. Theresa May tried and failed three times. Too many Conservative MPs have been unwilling to support the necessary compromises. I hope a new leader may win more of them over. But the likelihood is that we will need the support of some Labour MPs. This will need cross-party co-operation and compromise. Parliament will be able to shape the contents of any withdrawal agreement bill and, as a consequence, a Brexit deal delivered in this parliament will not be as purist as some of my colleagues want.
“That may lead some to argue that we must have a general election to deliver a Conservative Brexit. You don’t have to have a long memory to realise the risks with this.
“The … hard reality is that a general election before the issue of Brexit is resolved is more than likely to put Jeremy Corbyn in No 10.”
While Justine Greening MP told Sophie Ridge on Sky this morning that:
“What I want to hear from those people who set their face against a second referendum as a way of resolving Brexit is, what’s their plan?
“All of them need to set out the detail of how they are going to do a workable, deliverable route forward on Brexit. Not just what they want, how are they going to implement it? They now have … the duty to explain to the British people as well as the Conservative Party’s members what their solutions are on Brexit and how they are actually going to find a viable route through.
“Because in my judgement Parliament is gridlocked and it’s going to stay gridlocked. So we will have to have a referendum because it is only the people who can now break that gridlock.”