A way out of this mess

Both the Conservatives and the Brexit Party could benefit from an electoral pact

Addressing the 1922 committee in the wake of the 2017 General Election fiasco, Theresa May declared, "I got us into this mess, I will get us out."

To put it gently, that hasn't quite worked out. The "mess" has become potentially terminal for her party and has certainly proven fatal for her reputation. However, the country and the Conservative Party could still avoid catastrophe - just.

We need to go back to the fundamentals of our relationship with the EU. In 2016 it was an entirely reasonable decision for the UK to leave the EU; a clear rejection of top-down, supranational governance. That decision was taken by the British people.

The separation, or sequencing, of the Withdrawal Agreement and the future relationship was a decision of the EU institutions. It should never have been conceded by either the UK or the European Heads of Government if they had the interests of the people of the EU rather than the EU as an institution at heart. It has run into the predictable wall of real interests. The UK had the money, the people, the huge trade deficit and the interests of our Irish neighbours, who, coincidentally being both European and British, have their future prosperity tied to our successful departure.

The denial of these key interests by those who have another and continuing agenda of reversing the 2016 referendum decision is palpably self-serving. These falsehoods around just leaving on WTO terms have further corroded trust in politics, compounding the basic problem that the Parliament elected in 2017 has collectively rescinded its contract with the electorate.

This is largely an abrogation by Labour MPs, but it is the Conservatives who are most exposed as a minority government to the baleful influence of those determined to either reverse the 2016 decision or even worse, hobble Britain's future by tying ourselves to EU policies at a cost of surrendering our sovereign power over our future policy and influence within the EU's decision-making institutions.

Her deal does not secure the future, but expects us to pay £39bn for a promissory note on the future relationship. It also requires us to negotiate that relationship with an impossible legal conundrum to solve over the Irish border. This opens our negotiators to every national lobby going in shaping the future relationship. Most backbench Conservative MPs recognised this, which even with the demands of 3-line loyalty meant a majority voted against her deal when WTO was still a viable option.

The soaring support for the Brexit Party, and the polling data in advance of their arrival, on support for no-deal, show that the public understand this too.

Now our central objective must be to deliver Brexit and restore public trust in our political system. The public were given a clear message and promise in 2016, and again in 2017, and are now rightly demanding what they were promised.

For this restoration to begin, Theresa May must step aside and allow a new Conservative leader to chart a way out of this mess. I am clear it will mean facing down this 2017 Parliament and delivering Brexit on WTO terms. That this will mean a General Election to escape the baleful influence of the 2017 Parliament seems unavoidable to me. This would give the new Conservative leadership a chance for the electorate to be given what they were promised as per the Conservative manifesto, under a Conservative-led government.

But it is now a blinding glimpse of the obvious that we can't win that election on our own from where we find ourselves today. The Brexit Party has the potential to wreak havoc on the Conservative vote in our own seats in a way that makes the attrition of our vote by UKIP or before then, the Referendum Party in 1997 look trifling by comparison. The 2017 Parliament has made Nigel Farage's case. We must now be prepared to accommodate that reality to deliver Brexit and restore some measure of trust in democracy.

That will mean some kind of electoral pact and common platform, but since the Brexit Party's purpose was and is a subset of our policy, this now seems an unavoidable necessity for us both.

Crispin Blunt MP