This day, 28 years ago, I sat with Margaret Thatcher in 10 Downing Street as her Political Secretary, three days after Michael Heseltine had announced that he was challenging her for the Leadership of the Conservative Party. At that time, any MP could mount a challenge with just the support of a proposer and seconder. Today, a vote of confidence can only be triggered if 15 per cent of Conservative MPs - 48 - tell the Chairman of the 1922 Committee in writing that one should be held.
Having seen the bitterness that a contest can cause, I thought long and hard before deciding that I should write to ask for a Vote of Confidence in our present Prime Minister. I only did so when it became clear to me beyond doubt that there was no chance of her delivering the kind of Brexit that I wanted to see and that my constituents voted for. I campaigned in the Referendum in favour of Brexit and I am still convinced that Britain has a bright future as an independent sovereign nation outside the European Union. I was reassured that the Prime Minister would deliver this having fought an election on a manifesto that made clear that we would be taking back control and would no longer be part of the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union. This was confirmed by her speeches at Lancaster House and in Florence. I was therefore horrified when the Chequers proposals were published to find that the Government was reneging on those assurances and that we would still be bound by European Rules under the so-called common rulebook without any ability to influence them or to refuse. This was not the arrangement that we had been promised nor that the Exiting the EU Secretary, David Davis, had been negotiating - leading both him and Boris Johnson to resign.
As Vice Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee, I have met Michel Barnier several times. At our last meeting, he set out his proposals for the future arrangement between the EU and the UK. This was a Free Trade Agreement which goes far beyond the EU's deal with Canada and is based on the closest co-operation with separate provisions covering police and judicial cooperation, and foreign, security and defence policy. It represents exactly the kind of arrangement which I and others campaigned for, giving us back control of our laws, borders and money, while maintaining a close economic and political relationship with the EU. The only issue to be resolved is the arrangements at the Northern Ireland Border to ensure that goods can be moved across with as little impediment as possible. With trusted trader agreements and technology, I am still confident that can be done.
In the weeks following the Chequers proposals being published, I and many others made clear that we could not support them and pleaded with the Government to return to their original plans. However, the Draft Agreement which has now been put forward, represents an even worse outcome. As part of the so-called backstop, the UK will remain part of the Customs Union with no defined end point and with any change being subject to the agreement of the European Union. Despite all the assurances that Northern Ireland could not be treated differently, EU Rules will be applied even more strongly there causing our allies in Parliament, the Democratic Unionist Party, to make clear that they will not support the proposals.
It is obvious to me that this draft agreement does not deliver Brexit and is not a good deal. It also faces overwhelming Opposition from MPs of all Parties and all viewpoints. It stands virtually no chance of being agreed by Parliament.
I believe that it is still possible to achieve a good deal that will deliver the mandate given to us by the British people. If necessary, we can leave on 29th March but continue to meet all the obligations of membership to give us time to reach a new deal. This is an undertaking that we have already given for the so-called implementation period. It will also give us more time to prepare for no deal if it proves impossible to reach agreement. The Prime Minister was right to say repeatedly that no deal is better than a bad deal.
I had hoped that the Prime Minister would reach the same conclusion given the clear unworkability of the present plan. However, it is abundantly clear that she will not change her position despite the resignation of a second Brexit Secretary along with other colleagues. For this reason, I sadly concluded that if she refused to change then the only alternative was to seek a change of Leader in order to get an agreement which will deliver the benefits which leaving the European Union can deliver.