For anyone still clinging to the idea that the local election results, the European Parliament results, or the consistently calamitous polling since we failed to leave the EU on 29th March were unrepresentative outliers, the Peterborough by-election will have been a final wake-up call. The result demonstrated that, when Conservative voters switch to the Brexit Party, Labour is still able to win. A General Election could lead to the catastrophe of a Corbyn Government unless the Conservatives can win back those voters who have deserted it.
The Party faces a binary choice. We can elect a leader absolutely determined to honour our promises to take the UK out of the EU by 31st October. Or else we can face oblivion by going for more of the dither, delay and dissimulation which have caused record lows in the polls and seen us lose a by-election in which, under ordinary circumstances, our excellent candidate Paul Bristow would have been a safe bet.
The choice is obvious. Three spectacular defeats in the House of Commons and a definitive rejection at the ballot box have killed the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement, and good riddance to it. It would have been a clear breach of the Belfast Agreement in its treatment of Northern Ireland. Of course, this was the single most egregious issue with the Agreement, but we should not forget that this was just one of the many, many problems with the Prime Minister's deal: it would have condemned the UK’s fishing industry and would have left British agriculture unable to compete with the continent, leaving British farmers unable to embrace technology and innovation outside the failing EU model.
Clearly, we need to change course urgently. We need to focus on what we want - and what the British people voted for - a new wide-ranging, zero-tariff, zero-quota free trade agreement, as Donald Tusk offered in March last year. Our present trading arrangements can be temporarily maintained under GATT XXIV so long as the UK and EU both agree to negotiate an FTA and notify the WTO of a sufficiently detailed plan and schedule to agree it. With strong political leadership, there is no reason at all why this kind of arrangement cannot be seized.
If this cannot be achieved, we must be prepared to leave with without a formal agreement but with the numerous practical arrangements already agreed in place. It is completely wrong to say that such an approach means a “hard” Northern Ireland border. The Alternative Arrangements protocol means that – whatever happens – this is not even a remote possibility.
Such preparation is the only responsible path: any further delay will deal a crushing blow to public trust in our democratic institutions, which has already been seriously eroded. It would almost certainly be fatal for the Conservative Party.
Boris Johnson has fully grasped the existential threat which any further failure to deliver poses to both our Party and parliamentary democracy. He has warned our colleagues that we face “extinction” if we do not deliver. He recognises that the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement is dead. He has promised that we will leave the EU by 31st October.
Boris is the only candidate who can win back the support of those who have left the Conservatives for the Brexit Party, as polling this week has shown. He is the only candidate who can prevent the horror of a Corbyn Government becoming a reality.
Boris understands that the Conservatives will not be listened to on anything until we have delivered Brexit. But once we have, Boris has a truly positive vision of what Conservative values can do for the UK: lowering taxes and simplifying regulation to support families, unleash entrepreneurs and create prosperity; empowering the police to tackle violent crime; and addressing the appalling imbalance between urban and rural school funding to ensure that every child can receive the best start in life.
Boris has a proven track record. I worked closely with him – alongside his father, Stanley, and William Hague – in bringing about recent measures in our urgent efforts against wildlife crime. Boris twice won the London Mayoralty, in the most cosmopolitan city in the world and a traditional Labour stronghold. He was a fine ambassador for London during the Olympics and his team in City Hall delivered well-run, value-for-money services for Londoners, kept them safer than their successors and boosted the city’s standing on the global stage.
Boris is a true internationalist. His great grandfather, Ali Kemal, is a significant influence; he could recite the Koran from memory and was Minister of the Interior for the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Boris counts Christians, Jews and Muslims among his ancestors. He was born in the United States. He is a fluent French speaker. He is, as he described himself, a “one man melting pot”, perfectly suited to a time when the UK must re-emerge as a leader on the global stage.
Above all, Boris is a great optimist. Brexit is a unique opportunity in the long history of our country, and it needs to be realised with a buoyant vision of our future. We need a leader who can restore the trust which the outgoing Government have damaged so profoundly. We need a leader who rejects the grindingly depressing politics of managed decline. We need a leader who will inspire confidence in our country at home and generate excitement abroad. Boris Johnson is that leader.