Liam Fox (Telegraph Article): "It is time to quit the hysterics, if not we feed those who thrive on division and chaos"
Writing in today's Telegraph (10th September 2019), Dr Fox wrote:
In recent times we have become accustomed to political debate being carried out in increasingly hyperbolic terms. Everything is a crisis, a cliff edge or an existential threat. Politicians seem to speak more in tabloid headlines than in sensible, rational tones.
Much of this has been generated by the Brexit debate and, in particular, by the unwillingness of those who were on the losing side to accept the validity of the result. Much of the debate about the state of the Conservative Party has been verging on hysterical. We have been told that we have entryists and usurpers trying to turn the party from a centre-Right broad church into an extreme Right-wing faction. This is presumably a reflection on the level of support among party members for the Prime Minister’s position, which is to leave, without a deal if necessary, in order to fulfil the democratic mandate set by the referendum.
Apparently “extreme Right-wing faction” equates to the willingness to accept no deal over no Brexit. Some comments, understandably, are an angry reaction from those who have had the whip withdrawn.
But it’s worth remembering that Boris Johnson was elected with a clear majority of Conservative MPs before the ballot was put to party members. His support cut across age, geography and the political spectrum within the Parliamentary party. Many who voted for him would be horrified to be called extreme Right-wing. Some would be horrified to be called Right-wing.
They seem to have appreciated shifting the agenda away from endless discussions about Europe. This has been reflected in recent opinion polls.
Let’s remember again that the agenda on these public services issues itself has hardly lurched to the Right. If anything, the £13.8 billion extra expenditure announced by the Chancellor last week made those of us who are traditionally fiscal hawks raise an eyebrow over the affordability of such spending. I can certainly see no move away from a centre-Right party with a broad-based political agenda.
There is no evidence whatsoever that we are becoming a single-issue, Brexit-dominated sect. Colleagues are right to point out a tolerant Conservative Party, willing to accept a range of views, has been the basis of our long-term and exceptional political success. We avoid external coalitions by maintaining an internal one.
Like most of my colleagues, I want to see Britain leave the EU in an orderly way, and the best way is through an agreement with the EU. Where I disagree with some is the alternative to a deal cannot be no Brexit at all – which is what some, though by no means all, seem to want.
It is an inescapable fact that those in the political bubble can become obsessed with process and the minutiae of the debate, failing to see the big picture our voters see.
In their eyes, correctly, we did not ask for an opinion from voters; we asked for an instruction. We said we would honour it. “No Brexit” simply cannot ever be a Conservative policy even if no-deal brings unwanted risks.
I understand the strength of feeling of those colleagues who voted against the Government and consequently lost the whip, just as the Maastricht rebels did a generation ago when they were stripped of it by John Major.
They were no less Conservative for the strength of the views they held then and, once Maastricht was out of the way, the whip was restored, given their support for the government across its broader agenda. There is no reason why the same could not happen again.
But Brexit needs to happen for our national political health, including that of the Conservative Party itself. For whatever else we are, we must be democrats first and last.
Meantime, we need to conduct our political debate in a more reasoned way. It is time to lose the over-the-top rhetoric, dial down on the hyperbole, ditch the hysterics and win on the arguments. If we do not, we will feed those on the fringes of our politics who thrive on division and chaos.
The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP is Conservative MP for North Somerset and former International Trade Secretary