I cannot back ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ deal
In the 30 years since I was first elected to Parliament, Tuesday’s vote is the most difficult choice I’ve faced. All my instincts as a former chief whip – and as a Government whip during the Maastricht debates in the Nineties – are to support my party and Government. I know all too well the damage done to the Conservative Party by the explosive fault lines on Europe. It has destroyed the last three Conservative prime ministers.
I admire our Prime Minister and her steadfast determination to deliver her deal. Having served with her for seven and a half years in Cabinet and shadow cabinet, I know well her integrity, determination and principle, and I respect her.
But as I spoke to the sixth form recently at Bishop Walsh School in my constituency, I realised I cannot support this deal. It is neither in the interest of those young people, nor of Sutton Coldfield, nor of our country.
First of all, I do not understand what led our Prime Minister to bring back a deal she knows she cannot get through the House of Commons.
Furthermore, to try to do so will not only destroy the whipping system for the rest of this Parliament (a serious matter for any minority government) but has all the appearance of turning constitutional convention on its head.
It is the Government that is accountable to Parliament, not the other way around. This strategy appears to have as its inspiration the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Secondly, this deal does the reverse of what it says on the tin. Far from settling matters over Europe, it perpetuates the deep divisions that have engulfed our country. Indeed it enshrines them. This deal would leave us as a rule taker. That will satisfy neither side. It ensures that those who believe we should remain in the EU will campaign to become a rule maker once again, and those who voted to leave will feel we have not done so.
They will feel the result of the referendum has not been respected. It is the worst of all worlds.
Thirdly, by giving way on the backstop, the deal will deliver the likelihood that Northern Ireland will be treated differently from Great Britain. This is a red line that the Democratic Unionist Party has always made clear cannot be crossed if they are to sustain the Government with confidence and supply. As Arlene Foster told the annual dinner of the Sutton Coldfield Conservatives last week, this threat to Northern Ireland is greater than having Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.
And this is all before we start our negotiations for our new relationship with Europe. We would be in a fundamentally weak and subservient position.
This week it is Parliament that will take back control. We have mixed oil and water by imposing on our Parliamentary system a referendum result. And, of course, Parliament must respect that. It is now for the House of Commons to decide how to agree on the best way ahead in the national interest. I have made my decision.
Andrew Mitchell is MP for Sutton Coldfield, and former Cabinet member (2010-2012) and chief whip