As the Prime Minister heads to tomorrow’s EU summit in Brussels with little prospect of achieving her desperate attempt to engineer a short-term Article 50 extension, I want to give her something else to think about: the survival of the Conservative Party.
Today, the Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom told Nick Ferrari on LBC: “It’s absolutely essential that we’re out of the EU before the European elections [on 23 May].” I am in no doubt that Leadsom meant what she said.
So what is really surprising, and what raises the question of Downing Street’s fundamental competence, is the Prime Minister’s continued insistence that an extension until 30 June could avoid Britain taking part in those European elections.
The EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the chairman of the EU Parliament Constitutional Affairs Committee Danuta Hübner have both made it crystal clear that if Britain is still a member of the EU on 23 May, we will have to contest these elections or there will be legal challenges. What part of this does Mrs May not understand?
I do wonder how Number 10 has got things so wrong. Perhaps Downing Street has adopted a bunker mentality and is so defensive and intolerant of criticism that it has stopped listening to what anybody says, regardless of who they are. If this is the case, at least there can be no doubt that everyone associated with Mrs May’s regime will have heard the warning shot fired today at Prime Ministers Questions by the Conservative MP for Wellingborough Peter Bone.
He said that history will judge Mrs May at this moment and told her: “Prime Minister, if you continue to apply for an extension to Article 50 you will be betraying the British people”. These are words that no self-respecting leader should be able to bear to hear.
With these comments, Bone spoke for a large, settled majority of Conservative Party voters. Indeed, recent polling by ComRes shows that Tory voters now support leaving the EU on 29 March with no deal by a majority of two to one.
The situation we are now in boils down to trust. A clear majority of Britons declared their wish to leave the EU in that historic referendum of 2016. They were promised that their decision would be implemented. This was backed up in the 2017 general election when more than 80% of all voters supported the Conservative and Labour parties, both of which promised to honour the result. And the Prime Minister herself has personally declared publicly more than 100 times that the UK will be leaving the EU on 29 March.
So simply by applying for an extension to Article 50, I wonder whether she realises what damage she is doing to Britain’s global standing as a democratic nation. For we are diminished, shredded, and now look something like a banana republic. This diminution will also herald the destruction of the Conservative Party. Is this to be Theresa May’s legacy?
Recently, fearing that Brexit would not be delivered, I helped to establish the Brexit Party. It now has official status having been legally registered with the Electoral Commission and it has a website where already 100,000 people have pledged their support. The extraordinary thing is that, despite the Brexit Party still being only virtual, with no public events or launch of any kind, our private polling already shows we already have 18% of support in the European elections.
The data we have suggests that while we are picking up plenty of support from the patriotic old Labour vote, it is the Conservative vote where our future support will lie. An astonishing 40% of Tory voters say they are likely to vote for the Brexit Party at some point.
Any extension of Article 50 will be seen as a betrayal of our nation by millions of angry Conservative voters. The choice facing Theresa May is simple. If she holds firm and abides by the law of the land, Britain will leave the European Union at 11pm on 29 March. If she buckles, and a long extension ensues, I promise I will do my best to tear her party limb from limb. It deserves no better.
It is time we left the European Union and got on with the rest of our lives.