A statement after Cameron’s “deal”

As anyone who follows my Twitter feed and blog will know, I have for some time been associated with “Flexcit” — the market solution for leaving the EU. This incredibly comprehensive document is largely the work of Dr Richard North and is by far and away the best and indeed only fully worked-out plan for leaving the EU. Amongst other things, it is completely clear on what this referendum is about — it is about the UK giving up membership of the EU. Every fibre of Flexcit is consequently targeted at that single goal, driven by the objective of building Britain’s global status and reinvigorating Britain’s rather tired and limited democracy. In other words, the plan commendably elevates EU exit above all other considerations.

It therefore recognises that this is not a referendum about the EU’s “free movement” provisions, despite what some will tell you. Nor is it a referendum about immigration in general. Or multi-culturalism. Or deregulation on a massive scale. Or destroying the EU. Or anything else that often comes up in association with Brexit.

This is not mere quibbling or semantics — far from it. By throwing these points into the mix, boundaries about what Brexit is and is not become blurred and that affects what voters think they are voting on. And it must also be said that these secondary or implied objectives for Brexit put off some voters whom the Leave side really need. Further still, some committed Brexiteers (like me) don’t particularly object to “free movement”.

It is no secret that I had believed the referendum would happen in Autumn 2017; that a treaty change process would have been announced before then; that associate membership status would be put ‘on the table’ which David Cameron would have then sold to the British electorate as a “fundamental change”. I have also written that Cameron could even go further in that scenario and promise a second referendum post-2020 to ratify the eventual treaty, thereby possibly making the mooted 2017 referendum a walkover for him. That whole scenario would have been immensely challenging for the Brexit movement and would have seen the vast majority of Conservative MPs supporting Remain and saying that “we all need to trust the prime minister”. It would have threatened to basically defer the question to post-2020, meaning the Conservatives could focus on winning against Corbynite Labour. There was even the logical possibility within this scenario that some in the ‘eurosceptic aristocracy’ might support the Remain side in 2017, leaving only a handful of ‘die-hards’ on the Leave side aligned with UKIP. With such a mountain to climb, the need to lodge a full-worked-out plan in the Brexit debate became an even greater necessity (if that were possible).

And so we come to the last few extraordinary days.

Astonishingly, all the very low expectations of a rather trivial renegotiation outcome have themselves been barely met. They have certainly not been exceeded. There is no last minute ‘rabbit’ from a hat that so many people were expecting and so the politics of the Cameron renegotiation have turned the whole drawn-out exercise into an almost unmitigated disaster for the prime minister. The outcomes are scarcely worth the paper they are written on and, worse, the renegotiation now looks to have confirmed both the UK’s lack of influence in the EU, and the EU’s apparent immunity from reform. It has actually reinforced the case for Brexit.

As a consequence, I am seeing things that I never imagined possible. For example, one after the other, Conservative MPs are metaphorically queueing around the block to sign up to the Leave campaign and thereby disassociating themselves from this appalling mess made in Downing Street. As many as half of all Conservative MPs (circa 165) may back Brexit. That is a staggering number. Constituency Conservative Associations are also starting to simmer.

This has prompted Cameron loyalist Michael Gove to declare for Leave, quickly followed by Boris Johnson who had previously been heading into the Remain camp. Indeed, I’m still rubbing my eyes in disbelief at the Boris announcement and have read several reports on it just to make sure it isn’t an early April fool’s joke. Boris’s bell-weather move is just another measure of Cameron’s extraordinary failure.

I have said several times on Twitter and on blogs over many months that a day will come in this referendum campaign when it was time to stop directly challenging and attacking “our own side”, and using retweets and links to blogs/papers to reinforce that. That day has arrived.

Given the new circumstances and my continued confidence in the arguments set out in Flexcit, there are now only really three options for me:

1. To give up and do something else

2. To join another Leave camp and publicly argue their case for Brexit

3. To stay involved in the Leave campaign in its broadest sense but to change the method of engagement.

I am choosing the last of the three. I believe I have always engaged in a positive way and with a positive tone but I know some other Flexciteers approach this differently. Then again, someone needs to ruthlessly defend Flexcit from all who would attack it and it is the destiny of Dr Richard North and Peter North, as the plan’s authors and guardians, to fulfil that role. My destiny is however different — as a positive seller and communicator of the Flexcit stance within the wider Brexit movement but doing so without detracting from the whole movement’s common goal: to leave the EU.

It is time to build bridges, to discuss, to share, to persuade, to sometimes cajole, and yes perhaps even to schmooze a little with others calling for Leave vote. To be clear, there will be no personal attacks on other Leavers; no questioning of their motives; and no pointed comments at those who do not understand this complex subject as much as I would like, including some journalists.

Yes I would conduct a Leave campaign very differently — let’s just accept that as a ‘given’ — but that is now out of my control and I see no point in sitting on the sidelines complaining about the efforts of others. In fact, I’d just rather shut up (option 1 above) — I have toyed with that option several times over the last week.

The changed approach might take a little time to get right but I’m willing to give it a try.

It’s true that I will never accept and have no intention of entertaining the unpleasant views of a very small minority who happen to align themselves with the Leave movement. But firstly there are ways and means of doing that (the online equivalent of the Off switch) and secondly, the busloads of “reasonable” Conservatives now arriving in the Leave camp, including the many fans of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, will help make such extreme voices even less relevant than they already are.

But the bottom line is this: We suddenly have very little time left and so the time has come to focus on the real goal and the real opponents.

As a programme manager/director in my usual day job, stakeholder management comes with the territory, as does risk management (de-risking), planning, communicating, and translating visions into action, sometimes in politically-charged circumstances. And doing so with a very wide range of personalities and outlooks.

I therefore hope that I can continue to bring something to this great event in British politics.