And MPs who seek to frustrate Brexit "just don't get it"by Alex Dean / January 25, 2017 / Leave a comment
“The predictions of David Cameron and George Osborne have all been dispatched.”
In an exclusive interview with Prospect, Bill Cash, Tory grandee and one of the country’s most prominent Brexit campaigners over the past several decades, argued that Theresa May is “emphatically” an improvement over her predecessor. During the referendum campaign, the MP for Stone publicly questioned Cameron’s leadership, accusing him of peddling “monumentally misleading propaganda.” Speaking to me in his stuffy Westminster office, he suggested that Cameron should “come back to the Commons and apologise.” He also revealed that he used to have “bust-ups” with his former leader. “At the end, I’m really not sure he had his wits about him,” Cash says, before hastily adding: “I don’t mean that literally.”
Cash has been a thorn in the side of successive governments over Britain’s EU membership since he entered the Commons in 1984, serving first as member of parliament for Stafford, then for Stone. As chairman of the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee, commanding great respect within the “Leave” camp, his comments are highly noteworthy.
Despite his vehement support for Brexit, he isn’t shy about calling out failings among “Leavers”: “I was pretty disenchanted with the Vote Leave campaign… I was literally appalled by the NHS argument on the bus… It was just the wrong thing to say for so many different reasons as a matter of principle—and in my opinion fact as well.”
Cash also had complaints about some members of his own party. After the referendum, Boris Johnson ran for party leader, initially with Michael Gove’s backing. Gove then decided to run himself, leading to accusations that he had stabbed Johnson in the back. “The Gove, Johnson aspect of things, I’m not going to enlarge on that but, I mean, it wasn’t a particularly edifying ending to a campaign which ultimately was about the future of the UK…. It just didn’t look right. I felt rather sad about that.”
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that parliament will have a vote on triggering Article 50—the process by which Britain leaves the European Union. Cash had harsh words for those MPs not on side: they “just don’t get it.” He continued: “It looks rather pathetic, if I may say so, for those people who voted for the referendum to then become ‘Remoaners’ complaining… that the result of the referendum…. should be somehow either mitigated or diminished.”
“This is not a very complicated issue. It’s about who governs Britain. It’s about democracy. It’s about how you implement that—and about how you engage in this revolution.”
On 17th January, Theresa May gave a speech in which she announced that Britain will be leaving the Single Market. It was, Cash said, “very reasonable—and statesmanlike. Some people have criticised it on the grounds that it provided threats [to the EU]. It did nothing of the kind. It’s just simply saying this is what the British people have decided… by a substantial majority and we’re going to implement it.”
With such speeches, the Prime Minister is “showing that she’s got nerve—and a will of iron.”
Cash was keen to stress that Brexit “has never been just about an insular anti-European attitude. It is actually about what is sensible, what is reasonable… which is why I voted “Yes” in 1975 [In the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community]. I thought back in those days that it was possible to come up with a solution. It was only when I got into the House of Commons and was put on the European Legislation Committee in 1985—which was the worst mistake the whips ever made—that I really got stuck into it. I’ve been on that committee now for 32 years. I believe I am the longest standing member of any Select Committee of the House of Commons.”
When May triggers Article 50—which the government still hopes will be in March of this year—a two-year negotiation period will begin. If the EU does put “a very high threshold on those negotiations…all I can say is that it’s not going to do them any good. If it means that we don’t trade with them except with massive tariffs it’s not going to benefit anybody.”
Britain’s GDP pales in comparison to the size of the EU’s. On the off-chance that we do get clobbered in negotiations, though, “We are strong enough to cope…. We are a large country with enormous trading relationships. Donald Trump says he wants one as soon as possible with us. The Prime Minister of New Zealand is coming over. There’s India.” Britain would benefit from “A re-connection with these countries.”
On the 17th of January, Prospect hosted a roundtable discussion with the contributors to: Brexit Britain: the trade challenge. This report is designed to act as a guide for parliamentarians, officials and businesses with a stake in the UK’s changing relationship with the world following Brexit. The discussion was chaired by Tom Clark, Editor of Prospect. Participants included Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP, Miriam González and Vicky Pryce.
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