By Alastair Campbell, in The Guardian
Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd; www.theguardian.com
The hard-liners in her party will howl with rage, but most of the country will welcome it if the prime minister is honest about Brexit’s awful consequences
Monday 16 October 2017 17.46 BST / Last modified on Monday 16 October 2017 22.00 BST
As she tries to move the Brexit negotiations forward, how much better would Theresa May and the country feel if the speech she made to her party went as follows.
“Leadership is about confronting the great challenges. But Brexit is the biggest challenge we have faced since the second world war. So I intend to devote my speech, in four parts, to this alone.
“First, I want to explain why I voted remain – because for all its faults, the European Union has been a force for good in Europe and in the UK. I believed that our future prosperity and security, and opportunities for our young people, would be enhanced by staying in. Second, I want to explain why, nonetheless, I was something of a reluctant remainer. The truth is, there is a lot wrong with the EU. So though I voted remain, I was not starry-eyed. I was determined that, had we won, we would also fight for reform.
She would get resignations, and vitriol by the bucket-load from the Brextremist media
“Third, I want to explain why I have been trying so hard to deliver the Brexit the people voted for. It was a close result. But leave won. I felt strongly that it was my duty to deliver the only Brexit that I believed could meet the demands of the majority of leavers – out of the single market and the customs union, out of the European court of justice.
“But precisely because I have a profound sense of duty, I want to tell you the absolute truth as I see it. It cannot be done. Yes, you can shout. You can storm out. But I have looked at it every which way. And, as your leader, I have concluded that it cannot be done without enormous damage to our economy, to your living standards, to our public services, to our standing in the world. This is damage I am not prepared to inflict. The cost is too high.
“I will publish the legal advice that I have the right to unilaterally revoke article 50, and if you look behind me you will see the backdrop has gone and instead there is onscreen the letter I will be sending to Donald Tusk and the EU 27 heads of government later today.
“… I am ready for any challenge, confident that finally I will be able to fight for what I believe is the right course for Britain, and confident that once the public have the proper debate we failed to have during the referendum and the election, that my view can prevail in the country.
“The Labour party will also have to make up its mind. Most Labour MPs support the position I am setting out today, though their leadership may need to be persuaded. We may need a general election to settle this. At some point we may need a referendum to reverse the outcome of the first one. I am aware I am launching something here, the course of which is unpredictable. I am prepared to take all the risks attached to that. For I am no longer willing to pretend. I am no longer willing for the delusions of the few to dictate a strategy for the many, when so much is at stake.
“I will also be publishing the sectoral advice papers we have received on the impact of Brexit on all aspects of our national life, so MPs can debate these fully. I know many of you think I might be ill. I feel a lot better now. Because what has been making me ill is the reality of which I have been certain more each day … that Brexit is a disaster, a potential catastrophe for our country. That my duty now is to steer the country to the only sensible decision I can see – a rethink, a change of course: not hard Brexit or soft Brexit, but no Brexit at all.”
Big and bold, I’m sure you will agree. She would get resignations, and vitriol by the bucket-load from the Brextremist media. She might lose her job. Equally, this might be the way to save it. In her Florence speech, May called for more creativity, as though it needed to come from others. This speech is the kind of creativity she needs. It would be the making of her. And most of the country, I am sure, would breathe an enormous sigh of relief.
- Alastair Campbell was Tony Blair’s director of communications and is editor-at-large of the New European