This week the Conservative Party Members of Parliament will choose the final two candidates to be its new leader and our next Prime Minister. There will then follow a ballot of all party members across the country to choose the winner; this election is due to be completed by 20th July. At the time of writing this column we are yet to hold the second ballot in the leadership contest and it is possible that this whole process might be completed sooner than originally planned.
Before the first ballot I declared my support for Boris Johnson, as the candidate best placed to deliver Brexit and a bold programme of investment in the future, to build a stronger economy and better public services. I have been pleased to see his early commitments to prioritise increasing the spending per pupil in secondary schools and also to deliver superfast broadband to every home in this country that wants it by 2025; eight years ahead of the current government target.
Boris is right as well to commit a government led by him to take the UK out of the European Union by the current deadline of 31st October this year. Any further delay will greatly damage our country, creating more uncertainty for businesses and investment which will be bad for job creation and the economy as a whole. The failure to deliver Brexit on time has also affected our politics causing people to lose faith in parliament and other public institutions. We can only begin to restore this trust by leaving the EU as currently planned.
Our new Prime Minister will have to accept that Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement does not have the support required to pass through parliament, and never will unless the backstop provisions are amended. We cannot allow ourselves to be bound into a transition process out of the EU that has no definite end date. The only Brexit proposal that has shown it can pass through the House of Commons included an amendment to give the UK the right to exit the backstop at a time of our choosing.
Probably the only chance we would have, to get the EU to seriously reconsider the terms of the withdrawal agreement, would be to make clear that we do not want an extension to the negotiation process beyond the end of October, and that parliament does not support Britain remaining in the EU by revoking the commencement of the article 50 provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, by which we gave notice of our intention to leave. That would create a clear timetable for Brexit where we could seek a new deal, and it that was not possible we would leave without one. It would be much better for us to leave the EU with a deal, but we also have to bring this process to a close. The greatest danger we could face this autumn would be for many more months of delay.