Tim Farron writes…Theresa, put your country first

The largely confected outrage at the EU rejecting the Chequers deal has made me reconsider my view of Theresa May. It seems she is more canny than I had thought, and not in a good way.

I often stick up for the PM, at least on a personal level. I go back a long way with her. In the 1992 general election, we toured the working men’s clubs of North West Durham together as we each cruised to a heavy defeat at the hands of Labour’s Hilary Armstrong. Theresa and I didn’t become best mates or anything but I learnt to admire her for her determination and unfussy straightforward approach. She was a Conservative, but she seemed to put duty before party politics.

Chequers has made me question my opinion of the PM’s approach and here is why:

The EU very clearly stated two years ago, and consistently restated, that they would not accept a proposal of the Chequers sort, so who seriously thought that the EU was ever going to accept Chequers? Was the PM hopelessly deluded? I don’t think so.

Chequers would have only given us a single-market type deal for goods, not services. Services make up 80% of our economy, so Chequers would only have been marginally better than no deal.

Nevertheless the proposal was presented as a kind of ‘soft Brexit’ and dressed up to be a reasonable compromise.

Isn’t it obvious now that the Prime Minister drew up Chequers fully expecting it to be rejected by the EU? In fact, they were more than just expecting to be rebuffed, Theresa May and her advisors were clearly banking on it. It was all part of the plan. Not part of the plan to secure any kind of deal with the EU you understand, but the plan to shift the blame and have a shallow political win.

Canny and disgraceful.

Chequers was a deliberately crafted Aunt Sally ready to be knocked down in order to give the Government the opportunity to make a disastrous no deal Brexit someone else’s fault. And the best kind of someone else: the nasty foreigners!

Which begs the question: Surely Boris Johnson, David Davis et al knew that Chequers was never actually going to happen? Surely they knew that it was only a ruse to make the UK government look reasonable and the EU look nasty? I assume that the thinking behind this strategy was discussed at Chequers? Isn’t that why Boris Johnson toasted the PM after the deal was agreed by ministers? So, why did they break ranks – why on earth did we get the flurry of resignations starting with David Davis and culminating in some little-known PPSs?

I can only assume that David Davis had an attack of vanity, and spied an opportunity for some welcome publicity. What fun to have the chance to be vaunted by the right wing press as some kind of Tory Robin Cook!

It turns out that vanity is contagious and so we saw a raft of other Ministers (including that blond fellow) throwing in the towel in fabricated outrage at this apparent doffing of the cap to the EU laird. This was Theresa Chamberlain, appeasing the evil Brussels bootboys, selling out our sovereignty… it looked like the government might even fall in July as the outrage multiplied, eyes swivelled and the rebellion grew.

Except Chequers was a dummy proposal. Saying you are for it or against it is like saying that you are a supporter of Melchester Rovers or Fulchester United, or indeed, explaining that you hate them with a passion, when neither of them actually exist.

It seems then that Theresa May is no longer considering the country’s future, she has stopped seeking the best Brexit deal she can realistically get. Her efforts are now entirely focussed on the politics. How she can survive as Tory leader, how she can shift blame for a bad Brexit on to the EU, Corbyn or all those whining Remoaners.

Forbid it that our Prime Minister might act in the national interest.

Chequers was all about positioning the Tories, shifting the blame and saving her skin.

History will depict David Cameron as the chancer who gambled the country’s future for short term party advantage…. and lost. Against all the odds, Theresa May runs the risk of leaving a legacy even worse than her predecessor.

There is now no way for her to both do the right thing for Britain and to win advantage for the Conservative party. The best outcome for the British people, in terms of their standard of living and influence in the world, is a deal which keeps the UK in the single market and customs union (and which therefore preserves the peace in the island of Ireland), or else an affirmation (via a people’s vote on the final deal) of our current arrangement in the EU. However, if Theresa May endorses either of those options, the Tory Party will implode. The only way to keep the Tory party together, it would appear, is to opt for a bad deal or no deal, either of which will wreck our economy and impoverish our people.

So the question for our Prime Minister as she arrives at her conference in Birmingham, is this: after the game playing and false indignation over Chequers, which is more important to you? Is it Britain and its future, or the Tory Party and its future? Circumstances now dictate that you cannot advantage both at the same time. If you save one, you destroy the other.

Theresa, deep down I still believe you are decent sort, please prove me right. Put your country first.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • nigel hunter 28th Sep '18 - 12:16pm

    She is a Tory, party first country 2nd. Blame others for our demise not us (tories).They are a devious party.

  • Well said Tim, I know there will be plenty who will pick your article to bits, but I am too old to pussyfoot around just say it as it is and hope to goodness the British people realise the deception before it is too late.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Sep '18 - 12:43pm

    Go for it Tim.

  • The Tories struggle with the concept that it is possible that “What is good for the Tory Party might not be good for the country”. They seem to believe that the Tory Party and the Country are different words for the same thing. Asking them to put the country first is likely to generate the following form Maybot

  • Steve Trevethan 28th Sep '18 - 4:38pm

    Might Mrs May’s decisions be affected by the wishes of the big donors to her party which will be guided by their predictions of the consequences for their wealth?

  • I agree with Steve Trevethan. I also agree with the thrust of what Tim Farron says. The question is what is meant by the good of the country of course. We all see the world from our own viewpoint. I believe that we need to accept that others see the world differently than we do. The good of the country is understood by each of us from our own perspective. For people who are in danger of losing their houses, who work long hours in insecure jobs and still have financial problems the world looks different to the view of prosperous people with the resources to protect themselves from future problems. The success of service industries, particularly financial services means nothing to those who are getting poorer each year.
    So in the end we do the best we can. It would have been good in my opinion if there had been a focus by the party when they had influence on things like ensuring we had clear rules about how referendums are organised, written and so on in our country. Instead there was an attempt, half hearted though it was, to introduce the alternative vote. And House of Lords Reform. Oh and tuition fees.
    However getting back to the money, a lot of it is going to a small number of people in this country. We are a very useful haven for lots of ill gotten funds. Like billions from Russia as an example. It is clear what the vision for the U.K. of those that Tim criticises is. Where is the alternative vision from our own party?

  • William Fowler 29th Sep '18 - 8:31am

    There is one mad outcome that has got into my mind. Boris Johnson wants to be PM but can not get enough support from his mp’s to get on the final ballot of two (but will win if he does from grassroot’s vote). Mrs May is limping towards no deal (EU’s fault for sticking to its guns)… how can Boris get his mp’s onside whilst keeping the right wingers happy? Support a People’s Vote of no deal versus staying in, keeping the Right happy with a lot of rhetoric about slaying the vote on the back of EU “bullying” whilst pandering to the remoaners by giving them a second chance. Mad, as I said, but how else can Boris get the PM’s job? Done right he would also get back on board with the general electorate, esp the younger vote. Once in the job he would probably go neutral on the outcome (esp if the polls were all for staying in) or even persuade Brussels to come up with a better deal than they gave Cameron.

  • Philip Knowles 29th Sep '18 - 11:20am

    The country is in an impossible position.
    The Tories will not call a General Election because they’re afraid they’ll lose. I suspect the anti-Semitism storm over the summer was engineered to weaken the Lsbour Party but it did not succeed.
    Neither will they allow a People’s Vote for the same reason.
    Theresa May also won’t do what Tim so adroitly asked her to do because it will destroy her and her party.
    The only solution is in Parlament but, while Labour futiley hope for a General Election, there is little chance of that.
    I have been campaigning for a People’s Vote but don’t want one – it might have the same result.
    A steady campaign of truth not fear needs to be maintained. JRM and BoJo cherry pick selective truths. WTO rules are not ok – hard border in Ireland (because WTO rules say there must be), tariffs on imported meat, fruit and vegetables. On QT JRM said tariffs on shoes would be reduced – no one said anything in response about food.
    And everytime JRM says there’s no need fr a second vote he should have his words from Parliament in 2011 thrown back at him when he said that he ‘envisaged a second vote on any negotiated deal’. That, of course, was meant to be a second vote after a Remain vote.
    And every time there’s a story, like Ryan Air yesterday, it shoulde be oointed out that, of course, after we leave the EU we’ll lose our right to compensation, etc. Mke people realise what they’re losing and how it will affect THEM.

  • innocent Bystander 29th Sep '18 - 3:10pm

    “…. ” I have tried with all my determination to deliver what a narrow majority of the British public voted for in 2016. Fully respecting my beloved country, I have concluded ….

    Such words could only be followed by the initiation of an immediate general election.

  • marcstevens 29th Sep '18 - 8:03pm

    I clicked on the Maybot only for it to be replaced by Lisa Stansfield on my computer who would make a far better leader but not of that party. What she is doing is destroying access to trade, goods and services in the single market, she is effectively destroying Thatcher’s legacy.

  • “destroying Thatchers legacy”

    Surely this should be a matter for congratulation rather then for censure on a Lib Dem website? Or has the party of Clegg & Co finally evolved into the Conservative dopple ganger that some of us feared it would become?

  • Andrew Tampion 30th Sep '18 - 7:33am

    “And everytime JRM says there’s no need fr a second vote he should have his words from Parliament in 2011 thrown back at him when he said that he ‘envisaged a second vote on any negotiated deal’. That, of course, was meant to be a second vote after a Remain vote.”

    But the decision on the referendum was for Parliament not for any individual MP. Presumably either no MP proposed an amendment requiring a second referendum to confirm the result or such an amendment was defeated. it is profoundly anti-democratic to seek to change the rules after the result.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Sep '18 - 10:59am

    Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson was interviewed by Andrew Marr today and repeated his assertion that reasonable people would call a general election. He has had 17 years in the Commons (since 2001) and should know the Tories better than that. They will hang on in government as long as they can. Alex Douglas-Home did, John Major did, currently they have done a deal with the DUP (founded by the late Ian Paisley and currently including Ian Paisley Junior MP).

  • Richard Underhill 30th Sep '18 - 11:30am

    Tim Farron has a healthy sense of humour and should therefore watch the Andrew Marr show today. The Chequers policy is a Norwegian Blue.

  • Andrew Tampion: Someone else who doesn’t understand democracy. It is a continuous process, not an end result. A fundamental principle of democracy is that legislators cannot tie the hands of future legislators; votes cannot restrict the framework of future votes. Every mandate overrides the previous one (which is why, after an election, a new government takes over from the old one, and is not bound by anything the old government did). Therefore, what amendments were or were not proposed when the 2016 referendum was enacted in law are irrelevant. A new referendum to ratify (or not) the Brexit deal can thus legitimately, and democratically, be proposed at any time.

  • marcstevens 30th Sep '18 - 1:42pm

    Yes I agree with Paul and don’t have a problem in acknowledging the achievements of political rivals including Corbyn. Thatcher didn’t after all privatise the Royal Mail that came later with the coalition which I was against any way but the single market was one of her very few achievements in creating frictionless and tariff free trade within the EU of goods and services. The Tories and Labour now seem to want to destroy it.

  • @ Paul. Fair point on the single market…. But my memory of living under the Thatcher regime is more to do with “No, No, No……. And up yours Jacques Delors”.

  • John Littler 30th Sep '18 - 6:22pm

    Chequers appears to be playing for time, during which May continues as PM and macawber like, something might turn up.
    But as it is finally rejected, will there be a last minute plan B, pulled out at the last minute? If there is it would be unpalatable to some or other?

  • Andrew Tampion 1st Oct '18 - 5:10pm

    Alex Macfie. if as you argue Democracy is a continuous process does it not follow that that we should have regular referendums on EU membership to make sure that EU membership still reflects the will of the people? As you say no vote can bind the electorate in any future vote. Also the best evidence is that our country is very divided on this issue. If the majority is for Remain or Leave now who is to say in few years that the majority may go the other way?

  • David Lloyd 2nd Oct '18 - 7:44pm

    The UK is made up of four countries. We are in the very worrying position that we could end up with a Brexit and where any Conservative, Labour or Lib Dems leader see it as a chance/duty to secure England’s position only because they cannot tell the difference or feel duty to England first because it’s….”larger”. This isn’t masterchef where there are no differences between regions and nations, this is a historic union where David Cameron (then prime minister of the UK) was once criticised for not being able to out-debate Nicola Sturgeon with one pundit suggesting he didn’t know enough Scottish politics to counter her points; this is a historic union where the only time Theresa May mentions Wales in Westminster is to attack Labours record on heath; this is a historic union where at the Labour conference “forgets” education is devolved in Wales and again attacks the Tory record. If the Lib Dems forget what our first Union is then Brexit is even more dangerous.

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