Some read into the resignations a show of defiance by the Prime Minister and a chance for him to ‘show his mettle’. Others see a shift to a softer form of conservatism, a victory for so-called Tory ‘wets’ and a likely betrayal of Brexit. Does the soap opera within Number 10 really matter that much? Have we not all seen the Government’s abandonment of fiscal responsibility and the ease with which it has overridden civil liberties over the last year?
Then of course there is Brexit, the issue for which this Government really won its thumping majority. Far from the resignations highlighting a change of course on the matter, it has looked for months like a sell-out was coming – either in the form of a bad trade deal or the implementation of the current EU Withdrawal Agreement.
Frankly, this Government should never have signed up to the Withdrawal Agreement. It had a golden opportunity between the election victory in December – on the back of a promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’ – and when the agreement became law in January, to ditch it. It didn’t.
Lest we forget, the Withdrawal Agreement effectively locks Northern Ireland into the EU Customs Union. Northern Ireland must continue to adopt EU state aid laws, as well as EU laws in respect of excise and VAT. State aid rules which apply to the EU would apply not just to Northern Irish businesses but to those in Great Britain as well.
Then, at the eleventh-hour came the Internal Market Bill. Leave aside for a moment the grandstanding over international law, the Bill sensibly unpicks the border down the Irish Sea. However, it notably fails to suggest where the customs border then would be located. In short, it is not capable of practical implementation.
Only if the UK establishes a close trading and constitutional arrangement with the EU could the Protocol’s impact be masked, when what the UK requires is the freedom to diverge and exploit a competitive advantage.
That a Commons vote on the Internal Market Bill has been put back to the end of the month seems to confirm our suspicions since, by then, a trade deal with Brussels could already have been agreed.
Breaking international law is not to be done lightly, if indeed that is what is happening. But nothing should override the democratic will of the people and it is to that, and to that alone, that this Government should have first loyalty. If this is what it takes to correct what would be a historic mistake, then so be it.
The democratic will of the people was for all of the UK to leave the EU whole, free of EU laws and courts. The democratic will of the people was for the undiluted restoration of British sovereignty. And this is what the Government promised in its manifesto.
The departure of Messrs Cummings and Cain is a side-show. We know the Conservative hierarchy has said all manner of things to different constituencies within the Party when it comes to Brexit. It has promised a proper Brexit to the ERG and a close working relationship with the EU to its Europhile wing; hardly surprising given the Parliamentary Party remains split on the subject.
We have encouraged and cheered this Government’s attempt to correct the worst aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement. But far better to repudiate the Withdrawal Agreement entirely. There is not a single clause in its 572 pages which favours the UK.
At the eleventh hour and 59th minute, the Government needs to stand by its solemn promise to the British people.