Bernard Ingham: My open letter to Theresa May and why it would be extraordinary if old Brexiteers were more vulnerable to the Grim Reaper than Remainers

MAD March has impelled me to write this open letter to Theresa May.

Sir Bernard Ingham has written an open letter to Theresa May over Brexit.

Dear Prime Minister,

That old thespian, Tony Blair, once said, in the context of the Good Friday Agreement: “I feel the hand of history on our shoulder.” I am sure you shudder at such pretentiousness. But history does, in fact, beckon you.

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This month is the most crucial in your tenure of No 10. It will either make or break you. But if you make it you will rank with Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher as a politician who changed the course of post-war history.

Clement Attlee achieved astonishing social reforms in a nation bankrupted by war. Margaret Thatcher ended, at least temporarily, nearly 40 years of national defeatism by the application of will, economic common sense, the liberation of enterprise and the taming of rapacious union barons.

It now falls to you to recover the independence and sovereignty that we abandoned in 1973, thereby repairing some of the damage to your party caused by Ted Heath’s selling the idea on a false prospectus. What is more, I think you can do it – if you let boldness be your friend. I am not one of those know-alls who think you have been hopeless in your handling of the Brexit negotiations with the EU. By nature, I think I am inclined to play harder ball than you.

But I have some direct experience of Brussels when it was the Twelve, not the complication of 28. That tells me not to over-estimate what could be achieved.

Merlin would have done well to come out of Brussels with more, faced with a punitive Commission, Parliament at odds with the people, an utterly unprincipled Opposition and your own fragmented party.

In any case, Anglo-EU relations always end with some sort of compromise and this is either beginning to dawn or be conceded by some of your Brexiteer MPs, not least Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Whittingdale, Nigel Evans and Sir Graham Brady. And the resourceful Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, is working on the case.

The key is to ensure a binding time limit on that red herring – the so-called Irish backstop. I believe it is politically necessary for it to expire at the latest on December 31, 2020. We must be beyond the clutches of the EU come the next election due in 2022.

So, where should you go from here?

The EU have ludicrously persisted in saying they never know what you want. They should now be put out of their misery. If they agree to a binding terminal date for any transitionary period by the end of 2020, including the Irish backstop, you will put such a deal to Parliament with some reason to hope it would be accepted.

With so many of my friends seriously doubting now whether we shall leave the EU at all, the crucial requirement is to depart on March 29, preferably with some sort of agreement. If not, tough.

To ensure EU good faith – of which we have seen precious little so far – the £39bn divorce fee would only be paid if any agreement were honoured and there was no disruption to trade or other nastiness after March 29 this year. Given the conduct of trade the world over, there is no reason other than Euro-pique for our relations to be affected.

I accept that this would not dispose of Brexit’s distraction from the massive renovation required to so many aspects of British life.

For example, we would still have to consider what EU law, incorporated in our Statute Book, we want to retain or get rid of.

That would still give Remainers and Jeremy Corbyn chance to cause trouble. But at least we – and they – would know we are out of the EU.

More important, the wishes of the majority of the nation would be served, thereby saving us from a potential political meltdown, with Parliament still defying the majority will of the people.

Incidentally, Michael Heseltine reveals his arrogant naivety by claiming we need a second referendum because lots of demented Brexiteers like me have died over the last three years. But so, dear chap, have a lot of fanatical Remainers. It would be extraordinary if old Brexiteers were more vulnerable to the Grim Reaper than Remainers.

My message, Mrs May, is clear: go for it. Show you have a hard as well as cold edge. Win the plaudits and gratitude of the majority of the people and an honoured place in history.

Yours faithfully,

Bernard Ingham.