Where is the mandate now? In Parliament. And why we need a Government that shows it’s listening...

12th June 2017
Brexit was supposed to be about Parliamentary sovereignty. But the electorate has given us an inconvenient answer. They have returned a hung Parliament.  Theresa May is right to see through her duty to provide a stable government. It is therefore the job of all of us as democratically elected Parliamentarians to try and represent the will of the people we serve.
One thing is clear: we couldn’t reject the results of the EU Referendum, and nor can we reject the results of a General Election explicitly called to secure a mandate for Brexit.
There are many reasons for what went wrong: a woeful campaign, a shambolic Manifesto process and the undemocratic concentration of power in the hands of a narrow inner circle. When a Manifesto is produced without having even being seen by Ministers (or myself as Chair of the Prime Minister’s Backbench Policy Board) it shows a fatal contempt for Parliamentary opinion.
So the Prime Minister is right to move fast to acknowledge that, change her team and hopefully signal a step change in the way the Government is run.  The restoration of Cabinet Government, the appointment of Damian Green as First Secretary of State, and a Parliamentary chief of staff are key first steps. 
But we must go further than that. Politics didn’t stop on the day of the EU Referendum. This new Conservative Government needs to look hard at what drove the Corbyn surge. And redouble our commitment to tackle the deep grievances it spoke to.
The British people have sent some clear messages. First, they do not trust any single party enough to give us the blank cheque on Brexit and austerity we asked for.  After two successive Conservative Prime Minister's have chosen to outsource difficult decisions and 'ask the people', the people are signalling they'd like us to sort it out.  They want Parliament to do its job.  They will not thank us for another election or Referendum until things are a lot clearer.
Second, the shift of Brexiteers to Corbyn's Labour Party with its strong message on the limits to austerity and the critique of 'crony capitalism' (winning a number of former Brexit stronghold seats) signals a key point. The Brexit vote was as much about a roar at a broken model of growth, politics and public sector austerity as it was a principled view on our appropriate relationship with Europe. In this campaign we managed to alienate both business AND frontline public servants. To make a success of Brexit, tackle our deficit and productivity crisis we need to mobilise BOTH. 
Third, the Corbyn surge was fuelled by a young Millenial cohort and by a massive vote by public service professionals (doctors, nurses, teachers, even the police) fed up at the prospect of indefinite austerity. If we look like we are intent on balancing the public finances on the backs of public sector workers, we risk losing them for ever. We need to properly set out a positive 'offer' for public service reform and leadership and FOR the under 30's which reflects their reality on lack of affordable housing, and our broken public finances.
As the Parliamentary Conservative Party convenes this week we need to show fast that we have listened to the British public, that Parliamentary democracy is alive and well, and that we trust the people and their elected representatives. That is, after all, what Brexit was supposed to be about. So let’s commit to an 'Open Brexit' based on much greater Parliamentary scrutiny, debate, and democratic mandate.
The British people have told us they want a new relationship with the EU, in which we are outside the existing political union, and controlling our immigration in our own national interest.
But they have also told us that they are alarmed by the language of hard Brexit they have heard since the Referendum, want a new approach to public service austerity, and a more inspiring economic vision for how this country gets out of debt and creates and spreads opportunity.  They did not vote for a Brexit which makes us poorer or less secure.  This new Conservative Government must not ignore that plea.  Fail to capture the mood of the nation and we risk gifting the keys of No 10 to Jeremy Corbyn and his hard left union barons waiting in the wings.
So we need a Queen’s Speech which reflects what the electorate are trying to tell us. A hardline Brexit coalition with the DUP risks sending the wrong signal. Let us signal a commitment to redouble the domestic reforms we need to tackle the grievances underlying the Brexit vote, and the big challenges like social care, intergenerational fairness and mental health.  The mandate is in Parliament now. By building alliances to address the grievances of the electorate this new government can secure the mandate it deserves.
George Freeman MP is Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF)

Big Tent Ideas Festival

Politics is undergoing a tectonic shift. That’s why I launched the Big Tent Ideas Festival, aiming to tackle the most difficult policy challenges we face. The Festival has now run for two years. This year we hosted our first-ever Leaders’ Summit and brought nearly 2,000 people together for the main Festival across fifty events and eight different tents, discussing ideas to reform our politics, our economy and our society.

The Big Tent Ideas Festival is part of the Capital Ideas Foundation, founded by a group of entrepreneurs to campaign for renewal in the radical centre-ground. Over the next year, we will be setting off round the country as the forum for the best new ideas in public policy. Click below and join us.

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We are in the middle of a Brexit civil war. What is clear is that the existing options will not unite our country.

Chequers has been dismissed by Brussels and is roundly rejected by the ERG. The Canada option was also not designed for the circumstances we currently face. We are a European nation already heavily reliant on the single market - wanting ideally to retain access to the single market without being in the 'political' union.

That’s why I believe ongoing membership of the European Free Trade Association is now the obvious route. It would give us off-the-shelf access to the single market, allow us to take back control of our fishing and farming industries, control free movement and let us negotiate our own trade deals.

Unless we stand up and fight for a sensible moderate Brexit, we risk enduring a #HardBrexit. There is an alternative that we can embrace now. It is time to embrace EFTA.


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