Peterborough MP Shailesh Vara: Constituents back my Brexit stance
Shailesh Vara has been the Conservative MP for North West Cambridgeshire since 2005, having been re-elected in 2010, 2015 and 2017.
He has increased his majority at each subsequent general election and was, until last month, a minister for Northern Ireland. Mr Vara has also served as a minister in the departments for Justice and Work and Pensions and as a government whip.
His constituency covers a huge area from Barnack, Wittering and Helpston in the north, Elton, Great Gidding and Winwick in the west, Ellington, Woodhurst and Warboys to the south, and Ramsay and Somersham in the east, and of course Peterborough, south of the river.
He was the first of six of Theresa May’s ministers to resign in protest on the same day that the Prime Minister presented her Chequers agreement - the Brexit deal that would be put before Parliament and to the European Union.
In his first full interview since then Mr Vara has given a candid reflection on these troubled times, with Brexit dividing so many in the country.
In particular he reflected on Theresa May and her decision to withdraw the Brexit deal two weeks ago, before facing a vote of no confidence, as well as the reaction of his constituents to him resigning as a minister.
Mr Vara said: “The big debate in Parliament for the past few months has of course been Brexit in general, the withdrawal agreement – Mrs May’s ‘deal’ – and how we are going to make all of this work.
“I’ve had literally hundreds and hundreds of emails and letters from my constituents, right across Cambridgeshire, and indeed far beyond that following my resignation from the Northern Ireland office a few weeks ago.
“And while the views are divided, I have to say of all the messages I’ve received following my resignation 92 per cent were supportive of the action that I took.
“While that is pleasing in itself, there have been many people who’ve said to me that we should now take the deal that is on the table and move on. But, when I have written back to them – explaining exactly what the Prime Minister’s ‘deal’ is – they’ve come back to me and said ‘thank you for the explanation, now I understand it so much better than I did before – and I agree with your decision to resign’.”
Reflecting on recent events in the House of Commons, he added: “It was indeed a momentous vote in Parliament, and the Prime Minister won her vote of confidence, but I’m not sure that we are in a better place now than we were before, because ultimately the vote was based upon the withdrawal agreement that Theresa May has brought back from Brussels, and is still the same deal on the table that I resigned over.
“What we have now is a Prime Minister who, having won her confidence vote, will probably have an unassailable position at least for the next 12 months in Parliament. But for my part I want to say that it has always been about the deal on the table, and not the individual in question.
“The problem is that she’s left with the same agreement that has caused her all the problems she’s had to face, up to now. And the EU has made it abundantly clear that they’re not going to change their minds on this deal.
“So, given the strong opposition to the deal as it stands – and I have to emphasise here that there are a lot of politicians who you would not normally regard as the ‘usual suspects’ in terms of rebelling against the party line – I think that the Prime Minister is still going to struggle.
“I’ve been a Member of Parliament for nearly 14 years now. I have won four General Elections in this constituency that I am privileged to represent, and I’ve been loyal to my party throughout.
“I’ve spent nearly 10 of those 14 years on the front bench, both in opposition and in government. So it has taken a lot for me to take the stance that I have – but I genuinely believe, having read the 585 pages of the withdrawal agreement and the 26 pages of the political declaration, that this is a really bad deal for the country and my constituents.
“Therefore, I’m not sure that we are in a better place now than we were a few days ago, unless the European Union is prepared to actually renegotiate the agreement. And it’s all very well the EU saying that ‘we’re not going to do it’, but when they do, we, as a nation, need to stand up and say ‘well, in that case we will have to consider alternatives’.”
Mr Vara was also critical of the way the Government has negotiated with the EU to produce the current agreement.
He added: “The difficulty I have is that I don’t believe that the United Kingdom government has been as robust in all of these negotiations as it should’ve been. In an ideal world what we should’ve done two years ago is that the Prime Minister should have said very publicly that she was instructing her civil servants to prepare for a ‘no deal’ scenario.
“But in the meantime, of course she would negotiate with the European Union because we would like to have an agreement with them, and it’s in everyone’s interests that we have that agreement.
“She could’ve said ‘but, in the event that we don’t achieve an agreement I don’t want my country to be unprepared’. Now that would’ve added sufficient tension to the deal with the EU for them to think ‘we need to get a deal with the UK, because these people are serious, and they’re making preparations’. But I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t appear that we’ve done that.
“Therefore, we find ourselves today with the European Union looking at us – laughing at us – saying that they have the UK backed into a corner, and now we’re going to have to take the deal that they are going to give to us, rather than the other way around. To the EU it seems as if we’re not properly prepared – and we’re not.”