As a former Conservative staff member, I want a vote on the Brexit deal

​The 2015 Conservative manifesto promised to “safeguard British interests in the single market”.


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I used to be a Conservative party member and a staff member at CCHQ. I was proud to support a party that backed business, made difficult decisions for long-term benefit and stood for building this nation’s prosperity.

Like many of the party’s supporters, I have been horrified by this government’s inability to govern in the national interest, which is what the Conservative Party is all about, and is what makes the shambolic handling of the Brexit process so disappointing.

The MPs who have been resigning from government after the cobbled-together Chequers deal do not represent the overwhelming majority of the Conservative Party, nor the wider country, who voted for two successive Tory governments.

So before you even get to 2017, let’s look at the Conservative Party manifesto from 2015. It’s easy to forget it was only three years ago that these promises were made.

“To reclaim power from Brussels on your behalf and safeguard British interests in the single market. To back businesses to create jobs in Britain by completing ambitious trade deals and reducing red tape.”

A cursory look at the headlines from the last few weeks would have shown that, by the government’s own admission, this hasn’t been delivered. As Justine Greening, announcing her support for a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal, said: this deal is the “worst of both worlds”.

Now let’s look at the Brexit white paper in a bit more detail. This is the follow up to the three-page “blueprint plan for the future UK-EU partnership” agreed at Chequers just over a week ago. Be in no doubt; this is a hard Brexit in all but name, and a shameless attempt to sell the country down the river to appease the extreme right of my party.

Here’s why:

1) The exact same benefits do not exist outside of the EU

“The UK recognises that the single market is built on a balance of rights and obligations, and that the UK cannot have all the benefits of membership of the single market without its obligations.”

This line is probably the first time that the UK government has openly admitted that leaving the European Union – specifically the single market – will mean we won’t have the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as EU members. This is contrary to explicit promises from both Theresa May and David Davis.

This includes the time, in the House of Commons in January 2017, Davis said: “What we have come up with – I hope to persuade her that this is a very worthwhile aim – is the idea of a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have.” 

2) The deal abandons 80 per cent of the economy

“The UK is proposing new arrangements for services and digital that would provide regulatory flexibility, which is important for the UK’s services-based economy.

This means that the UK and the EU will not have current levels of access to each other’s markets… The UK can no longer operate under the EU’s “passporting” regime, as this is intrinsic to the single market of which it will no longer be a member.”

Our UK economy is overwhelmingly service based: services account for roughly 80 per cent of our GDP. In fact, the European Union is the largest UK services export market. But the approach outlined in the white paper, which proposes using the General Agreement on Trade in Services as a basis for future UK-EU trade, is in no way as strong as current membership of the single market.

Far from supporting a prosperous economy, the City of London Corporation described the white paper as “regrettable” and a “real blow for the UK’s financial and related professional service sector”.

3) It means being a rule taker, not a rule maker 

“The UK and the EU would maintain a common rulebook for goods including agri-food, with the UK making an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods, covering only those necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border… the UK is seeking participation in EU agencies, as an active participant, albeit without voting rights, which would involve making an appropriate financial contribution.”

The approach outlined above would turn the UK into a rule-taker, not a rule maker. Contrary to explicit promises made, the European Court of Justice will continue to play a role in the UK, without having a UK judge on the court.

4) A US trade deal seems unlikely

“In the context of trade negotiations, a common rulebook for goods would limit the UK’s ability to make changes to regulation in those areas covered by the rulebook.”

With President Donald Trump’s claim that Theresa May’s approach to Brexit prohibits a UK-US trade deal, any common rules the UK shares with the EU will hinder any trade agreements with other trading partners.

All of this shows that the government’s agreed approach to Brexit simply won’t deliver what has been promised to the British people. Far from taking back control, we’d lose it. That’s why I’m supporting a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal. That’s why Justine Greening is, and that’s why I think other Conservatives should as well.

Hugo Mann is a former Conservative member and activist, Hugo now works for European Movement as part of the People's Vote campaign