Opinion: Theresa May’s dancing was good - but Chequers plan isn’t

Prime minister Theresa May aka Dancing Queen PA / Victoria Jones

Prime minister Theresa May aka Dancing Queen PA / Victoria Jones - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Sir Bernard Jenkin says it is good that Theresa May is able to laugh at herself but he is unconvinced by her Brexit proposals

Every year, the two main parties decamp from Westminster and head outside the M25 for their party Conferences.

Labour normally have their turn before the Conservatives, and this year showed the true danger that a Labour government would represent. With calls for a General Strike emanating from the party’s MPs and angry denunciations of Israel spewing from the main stage, the mood of the Labour party was ominous. Capping this off with a policy announcement that would, in effect, take nearly one tenth of every large company into public ownership which would shatter confidence in Britain as a good place for business. It was clear in Liverpool that the Conservative Party has a duty to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn never comes near Downing Street.

The atmosphere coming into the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham was therefore quite tense. The clock is inexorably ticking down until our exit from European Union in March next year. The Prime Minister’s disrespectful treatment by European leaders in Salzburg was still on our minds.

As at every conference, Members of Parliaments have busy schedules. When not speaking at fringe events, holding meetings with constituents or with representatives of businesses, charities and action groups, or bouncing from panels to keynote speeches, finding the time and space to think and reflect is important.

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This year, what was striking was the number of people, young and old, with clear views on why they voted to leave the European Union, and what they thought of the Prime Minister’s so-called Chequers proposals.

It is worth remembering that, despite the press caricature, not every single person below the age of 35 voted to Remain. And despite the sense that certain parts of the country are strongly pro-one side or the other, even in remain voting areas of London, many people voted leave. And it wasn’t just Boris talking about Brexit at the Conference. It was discussed across many fringe events by many members of the party.

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It was in this context that the Prime Minister gave her speech. Taking to the stage on the final day of the conference, following a storming address by Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, she spoke on the conference theme of opportunity.

There were none in the audience who weren’t willing her on – especially after last year’s less than perfect outing. And it was a good speech. The Prime Minister came across as calm, poised, authoritative and willing to laugh at herself – as her entrance to ABBA’s Dancing Queen showed.

Most of her speech set out what we Conservatives stand for and what we aspire to achieve, and the equality of opportunity for all that we aspire to achieve for our country.

The members of the party in the International Conference Centre clearly enjoyed the speech, as their standing ovation and frequent bouts of laughter showed. And most importantly, she showed no sign that the European Union’s unacceptable treatment of her in Salzburg has affected her self confidence.

But while Conservative Members of Parliament from across the wings of the party are pleased that the Prime Minister had a good conference, its long-term implications are limited.

Her proposal for Britain’s departure from the European Union – the so-called Chequers plan – is still unacceptable for a number of reasons. First, it retains elements of the European Union’s legal order – the rule book for goods overseen by the European Court of Justice. This continuing role for the European Court of Justice is in direct contradiction of the vote to remove foreign courts from the United Kingdom.

Unless the Prime Minister returns from Brussels with a deal that is acceptable to the voters of the United Kingdom, who chose to leave the European Union on June 23rd 2016, then any deal agreed with the European Union will not pass the House of Commons.

As it currently stands, the Chequers proposal is quite simply unacceptable, as so many Conservative voters in Birmingham made clear.

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