25th November 2017

Tories in danger of becoming an outdated party talking to itself, says George Freeman

by Rachel Sylvester & Alice Thomson, The Times, 25th November 2017

The Tory party needs a “reboot moment” after the loss of its parliamentary majority, George Freeman insists.

He argues that, despite repeated efforts to “detoxify” the brand, the Tories are still in danger of seeming nasty, especially to the young.

“We have to be careful not to allow a new generation of voters to be persuaded by Labour into seeing us as the party with nothing to offer other than austerity, Brexit and an elderly voter base,” he says.

“If our first phase was ‘everyone must tighten their belt’, we should now say ‘thank you’, particularly to families. We need to shift our emphasis to higher rates of growth."

Although he voted Remain, Mr Freeman insists that the EU negotiations over the next 18 months should be “a moment of opportunity” rather than simply a political endurance test.

“Brexit can’t be an end in itself, it has to be a means to an end, which is national renewal. At the moment the country is living through a psycho drama, it’s pretty painful, but the prime minister should say, ‘I want you to know we have an inspiring vision of Britain beyond Brexit.’ ”

The Conservatives must put behind them the divisions of the past. “The new generation are the ones who are capable of developing a joint vision. Ken Clarke and Bill Cash will never agree but Steve Baker [the Eurosceptic Brexit minister] and I are close colleagues and friends on different sides of the referendum and we are mutually committed to making a success of this. I think we can be really optimistic.”

The budget was “very sensible” but Mr Freeman believes the country needs much deeper reform to make it fit for the modern world. “I would liken this to a company. We have incredible assets, a world-class brand, endless talent, but we have got to grip globalisation and really shake everything up...

To read the full interview, click here.

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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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