Tory MP says Brexiters suppress opposition by branding it subversive

Anushka Asthana Political editor
Nick Herbert said hardline Brexiters have an ‘irrational hatred’ of the EU. Photograph: David McHugh/Rex/Shutterstock

British people are afraid of questioning the “new orthodoxy” of hard Brexit because those who do are branded heretics and accused of subversion, a leading Conservative remainer has claimed.

In an article in the Guardian to mark the triggering of article 50, Nick Herbert accused the most hardline Brexiters of having an “irrational hatred” of the EU that has resulted in many taking “indefensible positions”.

“It doesn’t matter if we have tariffs as high as 29%. No deal is a good deal, whatever the cost. In the eyes of the ideologues, any economic warning is fake news, as untrustworthy as an expert opinion,” said the former minister, who led the Conservative remain campaign.

Herbert also claimed that a Tory government led by Boris Johnson rather than Theresa May might have pushed for further renegotiations after the referendum and made a “full-blooded Brexit” less likely. The foreign secretary had suggested that an out vote could be the jumping-off point for a better deal with the EU.

Herbert urged the prime minister not to ignore those who voted remain, emphasising that it was not a “mere minority who declined to support the event we are all expected to celebrate [on Wednesday]: it was nearly half of the country”.

But he claimed that few now dared to question the government’s push towards a Brexit in which the issue of immigration controls would heavily outweigh economic links.

“In Britain, those who express concerns are treated as heretics who must recant and swear adherence to the new faith. Doubting is subverting, questioning is remoaning. All will be well because we believe it will be well,” he wrote.

“The British trajectory towards certain departure was sealed by a Conservative party leadership contest that demanded its victor signed up to full-blooded Brexit. But the failure was Europe’s too. At first reacting in disbelief, Europe then behaved as a partner scorned. Well then go, they said, but you can’t expect to keep the house and the car, and there’ll be a price for this selfish separation,” he added.

Herbert argued that the “smart move by Brussels” would have been to propose continued membership with free movement checks.

“After all, we will now control our borders anyway. Better do so inside the club than out,” he said.

“A different prime minister – perhaps Boris Johnson – with a different leader in Europe – perhaps Nicolas Sarkozy – might have renegotiated after the referendum. Britain, already with the special status of being outside the eurozone, could perfectly well also have been apart from free movement too – able to control migration, but otherwise a full member of the EU.

“The British people would have got what most of them wanted: in the market, but in control of our borders.”

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