Resigning was never part of the plan. As a new Minister working on the historic mission of withdrawing from the EU- a job I enjoyed and a quest about which I am passionate- the plan was to give it my all.
Plough all my energies into securing the best deal with the EU- one that might not necessarily please everyone, but that would at be faithful to the Referendum. Robustly defend the Prime Minister and promote the policy: at public meetings, on television, to my constituents.
Step by step, we would get there. And the new chapter in our democratic history would be written. Yes, it would take hard graft, but we could do it.
So I find myself stunned that it has come to this. Resignation. Penning a letter to the Prime Minister setting out why I can’t support her policy. Why I’m unable to support the government. Unable to vote for the deal. How did I get to this point? Am I an extremist? Did I fail to compromise?
What I’m sure about is that I supported concessions throughout. Concessions which have, at times, seemed perplexing for such a brave and innovative country like ours. Concessions like the common rule-book which is the antithesis of ‘taking back control’; a ‘facilitated customs arrangement’, or rather a customs union in all but name, which will undoubtedly hinder our ability to strike free trade agreements around the world; £39bn paid to the EU for no legally binding future trade agreement in return; an Implementation Period when the UK won’t ostensibly be an Member State, but will still be subject to EU rules, free movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
I have supported these trade-offs in the name of pragmatism and mindful of the need for political unity.
Acutely aware of the parliamentary arithmetic, I chose to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand rather than weaken it; harmony over disruption, compromise over idealism. I have kept faith in the ultimate destination to justify the uncomfortable journey. But a line has been crossed.
We have reached a point where the concessions now bear no reflection to the People’s choice in 2016. People who send us to Parliament. People who trust their politicians to do the right thing. Where did these concessions come from?
Frankly, that will remain a mystery because it was not the Department for Exiting the European Union, or at least their Ministers- past or present. This negotiation, rapidly acquiring the moniker of ‘the worst deal in history’ is the product of the civil service, not politicians.
I must be clear: I have nothing but respect for the men and women with whom I worked at the Department. They were indefatigable, talented and dedicated. But the failure of accountability to politicians was astonishing. Civil Servants would routinely return from Brussels with the fruits of their endeavours, often having strayed beyond Cabinet mandates or setting policy decisions in legally binding text before Ministers had even discussed them.
I argued with officials about including a ‘conditionality clause’- which would make the payment of the £39bn contingent on a binding future trade agreement and which would give us some security in the event of a failure of talks in the future. But no insurance policy was forthcoming.
The general approach always seemed to be: Don’t upset Brussels.
As a former Barrister used to the confrontational nature of negotiations, that didn’t make sense. Acquiescence can’t possibly be the strategy? Surely it was for Ministers to make that decision? Surely it was for the elected representatives to call the shots?
Another chilling example is Clause 132 which allows the implementation period to be extended. That was never agreed policy by Ministers or Cabinet, as far as I know. It never appeared in any draft Agreements that I saw. Civil Servants were never instructed to agree that, as far I’m concerned. Yet the final version of the Agreement clearly states the settled position between the EU and the UK to extend the transition period until an unknown date.
No wonder this deal cannot command the support of the majority of politicians- remain, leave, left or right. It has been forged, not by those who have a political pulse, but by those who are risk-averse, pro-remain and do not want Brexit to happen.
And then to the substance of the deal. Simply put, the Northern Irish Backstop is not Brexit. It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU thus robbing the UK of the main competitive advantage from Brexit. Without a unilateral right to terminate or a definite time limit to the Backstop, our many promises to leave the customs union will be broken.
Whilst I accept that we do not plan to use the Backstop, it is nonetheless an alarmingly strong likelihood judging by the snail-pace that the EU adopts in agreeing Free Trade Agreements, the lack of incentive for the EU to make such swift progress with the UK and the absence of any serious consequences for the EU for failing to make sufficient progress on the Future Economic Partnership (see my fight for the conditionality clause, above).
And with the EU negotiators making it clear that the Backstop is to form the starting point for the Future Economic Partnership, my worst fears are confirmed. 17.4 million people voted for the UK to leave the European Union in our own sovereign way and at a time of our choosing. The Backstop renders this impossible and generations of people will look back on it as betrayal.
Secondly, the proposals in the Northern Ireland Backstop set out different regulatory regimes for Northern Ireland and Great Britain threatening the precious Union in the west and fuelling the fire of Scottish Nationalist calls for a second independence referendum in the north.
Whilst I entirely understand the complexities of this issue, I am confident- having met with customs professionals in my role at the Department - that such a break-up of the Union could have been avoided with the use of pre-border checks, technology and exemptions for the vast majority of small traders who operate at the border.
Sadly the Northern Irish border has been confected into a ‘problem’ rather than an opportunity. Only the historians will know whether it has been by design or incompetence.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve in Government. As a lawyer, I have an unshakeable conviction that leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ and restoring sovereignty to our own world-class courts is in the best interests of our country.
As a Conservative, I am inspired by the freedoms and economic opportunities from an independent trade policy. And as a democrat, I believe that we must not let the people down. Sadly this deal fails every time.