It was wrong to conflate Tory scrutiny with Brexit mutiny

James Baker
David Cameron Meets Ministers To Discuss Steel Crisis
Source: Getty

The front page of yesterday’s Daily Telegraph (“The Brexit mutineers”) is both unhelpful and unnecessary at a time when the country has grown tired of sensational ambushes and lurid headlines.

Anna Soubry and others were absolutely right to call it out for what it was: bullying and intimidation.

The irony, of course, is that the front page was so ridiculously over the top that it seems to have done the impossible and united the Conservative party in condemnation against it. Many readers will have seen the smiling faces of some of the best-known MPs in the party and would have been interested to discover what they had to say, rather than see them shouted down.

These are not meddling backbench MPs causing trouble for the sake of it. Among the 15 photos on the front page are some of the best political talent this country has seen in a generation. From four current Select Committee chairs to a former chancellor and former cabinet ministers for Education, Business and Justice – inexperienced troublemakers they are not!

Those named in the article were criticised for “blocking” Brexit. This disregards the fact that, ultimately, MPs have not only a duty to represent their constituents’ interests, but those of wider society. They are allowed, and should be encouraged, to review legislation put forward by the government. Scrutiny does not equate to mutiny and any attempts to shut down the debate by the media only goes against the national interest in securing a calm and ordered transition from the EU.

Our 15 Tory “rebels” have made it clear that they want the government to be in the strongest possible position to bring home the best deal. Any attempt by parts of the media to create a story which could open up the wounds from last year’s referendum campaign is more than just unwise – it’s egregiously unhelpful.

The vilification of MPs in such an aggressive manner is especially dangerous given that both Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry have received death threats in the past. If we have learned nothing from the tragic murder of Jo Cox it must be that our politicians do not deserve to be singled out in such a public and negative forum.

What has been especially reassuring to see is that many in government came out in support of their Conservative colleagues yesterday and condemned this approach. Some of the biggest champions of Brexit in Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, and Steve Baker voiced their support for them, confirming their respect at the MPs’ sincere suggestions to improving the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

My party has always a been a broad church – it’s what sets us aside from the cult of Corbyn’s Labour. It allows our MPs to have different opinions from their colleagues. Attempts by parts of the media to pit colleagues against one another will ultimately fail and will only strengthen the resolve of the Conservative party to get right the details of withdrawing from the EU.

The days of intimidation from the front pages needs to end. It is time for debate, scrutiny and discussion – and it seems clear that it is from the back benches that this will stem.

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