The Conservative party leadership seems to be under the misapprehension that the majority of members support May’s deal. But what, really, is going on at the grassroots?
At our recent Orpington Conservative Association policy forum, called specifically to discuss the withdrawal agreement, the clear sentiment was a combination of utter dismay at the situation we are now in, a sense of betrayal, forthright condemnation of the incompetence in negotiation, a disdain for media and expert opinion that has been blatantly biassed, anger, and even rage.
It should be a matter of the utmost concern for CCHQ when members are refusing to campaign for the party, and are even intending to withold their vote. Whatever happens, immeasureable damage has been done to the relationship between the parliamentary party and the membership.
May has already paid the price in Orpington of almost total loss of support for her leadership. However, it is the party, and more importantly the country that will suffer.
Notably, for a constituency and an association that has long been eurosceptic and an MP that is a remainer, there was almost unanimous agreement with Jo Johnson’s depiction of the deal as a historic failure of statecraft and the worst of all worlds. Many deeply felt concerns were raised by members, but the most significant were to do with loss of sovereignty, ending up as a rule taker, the loss of a unilateral right to exit the withdrawal agreement, and our exposure to being held to ransom by the EU27.
It is abundantly clear that the deal brought back by May is seen by members as bad beyond description.
The big question however concerns what should happen next, and this is where the meeting of minds with our MP completely evaporated.
When it came to Jo Johnson’s call for a Second Referendum there was almost total opposition, and the vast majority support leaving with no deal. What members want is for the government to now put every effort into preparing for a WTO Deal scenario.
Is there any realistic chance of this happening? Completely absent in Orpington is any belief that Parliament will in the end honour the 2016 vote to leave the EU, which as we were told at the time would mean leaving its institutions and jurisdiction. There is instead the expectation that Brexit will, in the end, be betrayed.
If as looks likely, May’s deal is rejected, we are faced with a Parliament that will obstruct leaving without a deal. The effect on our democracy of such a rejection of the will of the people will be profound, as would any re-run of the referendum with Remain still an option.
It is Parliament’s duty to lead us out of the UK – the specific terms of any Deal are secondary. The alternative represents the disenfranchisement of millions of people. The consequences of that, for the Conservative Party and the country, are unthinkable.
Paul Towlson is the Chairman of Orpington Conservative Association Policy Forum. He is is a business owner and currently researching a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Buckingham. Follow him on twitter: @PaulTowlson