“Theresa May is trying very hard to lose the confidence of the electorate,” says at the beginning of our interview Tory MP and one of the best known of Britain’s Brexiteers, Andrew Bridgen. While British politics interests Americans, it is becoming difficult to follow the ins and outs of the Brexit negotiation on a daily basis. The unusual drama of the Westminster debates, the technical language of the EU, and the Groundhog Day of rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement have all aspects of the good political television with an exception that the future of Britain is at stake here. Why can’t Britain just leave or hold the Second referendum are the two most frequent questions in the face of the Brexit deadlock? Why does he believe that the new PM must be a Brexiteer who believes in delivering exit from the European Union if necessary without a signed Withdrawal Agreement? Andrew Bridgen answers all of that and much more.
THE UK DID NOT LEAVE EU ON THE AGREED DEADLINE OF ARTICLE 50. NOW, FARAGE HAS LAUNCHED HIS ‘BREXIT PARTY’. IS THIS THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF THE CONSERVATIVES?
MP Andrew Bridgen: The future electoral success and survival of the Conservative Party is now completely dependent upon the delivery of Brexit. While the Brexit issue remains unresolved the Brexit Party and UKIP are existential threats to the Conservative Party. However these are effectively single-issue political parties and if the Conservatives can deliver a Brexit which is acceptable to our supporter and voter base, which is overwhelmingly eurosceptic then the threat will be neutralized. When there are no dragons left, there is no need for a dragonslayer.
WITH FARAGE NOW IN THE PICTURE AND THE SHAKEUP IN THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY, WHAT IS A CHANCE OF JEREMY CORBYN BECOMING A PRIME MINISTER? I’VE RECENTLY INTERVIEWED TORY MP DANIEL KAWCZYNSKI AND HE SAID CORBYN WOULD BE “A DISASTER FOR BRITAIN”. BUT MANY ARE ASKING WHY WOULD THAT BE WORSE THAN THERESA MAY?
MP Andrew Bridgen: It is a political truism in the UK that oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them and Theresa May is trying very hard to lose the confidence of the electorate. However, on the doorsteps even lifetime Labour voters are very reluctant to put a Corbyn led Labour Party into Government. The only way Corbyn could ever get into number 10 would be if the right of centre votes were split between the Conservatives, Brexit Party and UKIP at the General Election and even then he would probably require the support of the Scottish Nationalist Party with all the risks that would pose to the future of the United Kingdom.
HOW CAN THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY RECOVER FROM THIS AND SHOW LEADERSHIP FOR BRITAIN?
MP Andrew Bridgen: The only solution now is the removal of Theresa May as PM and a new leader and therefore PM being appointed. The new PM must be a Brexiteer who believes in delivering our exit from the European Union if necessary without a signed Withdrawal Agreement.
AMERICAN AUDIENCE DOES NOT QUITE UNDERSTAND WHAT EXACTLY IS GOING ON IN BRITAIN. IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO FOLLOW FROM HERE THE WHITEHALL WITH ALL THE TURBULENCES ON A DAILY BASIS. THE TWO MOST FREQUENT QUESTIONS AMERICANS ASK ARE: WHY BRITAIN CAN’T LEAVE THE EU AND WHY CAN’T YOU JUST HOLD THE SECOND REFERENDUM?
MP Andrew Bridgen: We can just leave the EU, if we had a leader with the political courage to do so at the end of the article 50 process if a deal had not been agreed we should have left on WTO rules on the 29th of March, unfortunately, Theresa May declined this option and has asked for repeated extensions to the article 50 period.
It is clear to me that the EU will never offer a Withdrawal Agreement that is acceptable to the UK as the EU wants to prevent the UK from prospering after Brexit due to their concerns of contagion and other members opting to leave.
A second referendum would undermine our democracy and threaten every simple majority vote conducted in the future. After Brexit is delivered, it would be completely democratic for a political party to campaign for us to rejoin, but for the sake of democracy, the result of the first referendum must be delivered first.
PLEASE EXPLAIN THE CURRENT POLITICAL SITUATION IN A FEW BRIEF POINTS
MP Andrew Bridgen: We have a Parliament which is putting our democracy at risk by being unrepresentative of the will of the electorate who voted to leave the EU. Only 160 MPs currently in the House campaigned to Leave the EU with 484 campaigning to remain. Although many of the 484 claim to want to respect the referendum result, their words and voting record are not consistent.
The EU and MPs who do not wish to Leave are conspiring to delay and undermine our departure from the EU in an attempt to reverse the decision through a second referendum. Theresa May has lost the confidence of the Conservative Party and the country.
I ALWAYS WANTED TO ASK WHY DID THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY GIVE A POLITICIAN WHO WAS REMAINER IN THE CAMPAIGN TO LEAD THE BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS? HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? WHAT WAS A POINT IN DAVID CAMERON STEPPING DOWN IF THERESA MAY WHO CAMPAIGNED TO REMAIN REPLACED HIM?
MP Andrew Bridgen: There is no election more vicious than a Conservative Party leadership election, which always turns into a circular firing squad. Theresa May was the last candidate standing and so gained the crown with facing a runoff against another candidate with the Party membership voting between the last two candidates. The membership vote would have uncovered the failings in Theresa May which were ultimately exposed at the disastrous 2017 snap General Election where a 20 point poll lead over Labour was lost.
I REMEMBER DAVID DAVIS RESIGNING AFTER THE FIRST MEETING AT CHEQUERS WHEN THE INITIAL PROPOSAL THERESA MAY LAID OUT. PLEASE WALK US THROUGH THAT TIME. WHAT WAS THE MAIN MISSTEP, IF ANY, THAT IN YOUR VIEW HAPPENED BACK THEN?
MP Andrew Bridgen: David Davis resigned as the Brexit secretary due to his position being undermined by the PM negotiating behind his back directly with the EU and trying to bounce the Cabinet with her “Chequers Proposals”. This also caused the then foreign secretary Boris Johnson to resign.
Since than another 20 members of the Government have resigned as this deeply flawed policy has become the so-called “ Withdrawal Agreement” , which has suffered the biggest defeat of a Government proposed a vote in living political history.
WILL YOU FINALLY SAY “YES” TO THE DEAL THERESA MAY PUT ON THE TABLE? WHY ERG AND YOUR OTHER COLLEAGUES ARE TRYING TO STOP THE DEAL? WHAT’S YOUR RATIONAL? ARE YOU THE REBELS OR THE RIGHT WINGERS?
MP Andrew Bridgen: I will not vote for the “Withdrawal Agreement” as it is, in fact, a Treaty drawn up by the EU which runs potentially till 2099 and which will give the EU everything they want now, including a legal requirement to pay over all of £39bn the so-called divorce bill while putting of negotiations on our future relationship with the EU until later. There will be no incentive for the EU to offer a Free Trade Agreement to the UK as we will have left the EU but remain unde4 their laws and unable to negotiate Free Trade Agreements with other countries, effectively retaining a captive market for EU goods and no competition to the EU. Effectively the Withdrawal agreement will reduce our country to a nonvoting member of the EU, described accurately as a vassal state or colony of the EU. This is not what people voted for or what we promised when we said we would take back control of our money, laws and borders.
WHY IS NO DEAL BETTER THAN MAY’S DEAL?
MP Andrew Bridgen: WTO rules is not no deal, it is the way we trade with most of the world and indeed our trade under WTO rules in increasing twice as fast as is our trade with the EU. If we leave on WTO terms we can initiate GATT article 24 which would enable up to 10 years of tariff and quota free trade with the EU while we negotiated the FTA we want with them. Given that the EU has a £95bn trade surplus with the UK and once we have left we would be the largest export market for EU goods, I believe they would agree to our requests.
DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THE DEAL IS POSSIBLE? AND WHAT TYPE OF THE DEAL WOULD BE A WIN-WIN SOLUTION? YOU ARE ALL COMPLAINING AND SAYING NO TO HER DEAL, BUT YOU STILL HAVE NOT HAD PUT ANY OTHER AlLTERNATIVE ON THE TABLE. WHAT IS IT YOU ARE PROPOSING THAT IS DIFFERENT THAN THE CURRENT DEAL?
MP Andrew Bridgen: I have supported the so-called “ Malthouse compromise” which would see us leave the EU and have a transition period of three years to agree a FTA with the EU or if this is not possible then we would leave on WTO terms at the end of the transition period.
THE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE IN THERESA MAY DID NOT COME TO FRUITION IN DECEMBER 2018. NOW, YOU AND YOUR COLLEAGUES ARE TALKING AGAIN ABOUT IT. ISN’T IT TOO LATE NOW? AND WHAT WOULD THAT CHANGE IF NO DEAL IS OFF THE TABLE AND THE EXISTING DEAL IS NOT SATISFACTORY FOR THE UK? WHAT WOULD REPLACING THERESA MAY CHANGE IF YOU ARE STUCK WITH, OR WITHOUT HER?
MP Andrew Bridgen: I believe Conservative MPs will demand that the rules are changed to allow the PM to be subject to another confidence vote. I believe the threat of this vote will force the PM to stand down. This will happen imminently.
IF YOU LEAVE THE EU ON THE EXISTING DEAL WHERE DO YOU SEE BRITAIN IN THE NEXT TEN YEARS FROM NOW?
MP Andrew Bridgen: The current deal will see the UK spend four years in transition and then move into the “ backstop” with any exit from it subject to vetos from each of the remaining EU 27 countries. The UK will not be able to enjoy any of the economic benefits of Brexit and will be subject to increasing and unrelenting campaigns for us to rejoin the EU.
If we sign the Withdrawal Agreement I believe in ten years time, almost thirteen years after the referendum we will have less sovereignty and control than we have now.
IF YOU BECOME A PRIME MINISTER WHAT WILL BE YOUR STRATEGY AND THE FIRST THING YOU WOULD DO ON A JOB?
MP Andrew Bridgen: I would offer the ultimatum to the EU of accepting the Malthouse compromise or I would authorize the UK departure on WTO terms on June 30th. I would reorganize Conservative central office in readiness for the General Election which I believe is increasingly inevitable before the end of 2019.