The Tories claimed a monumental election victory because of voters in seats like mine, Rother Valley, who placed their faith in our vision for Brexit. An extension to the transition period is unthinkable and would be a betrayal of all those former ‘Red Wall’ voters. We enshrined December 2020 into law for a reason: to communicate our steadfast intent and iron resolve with regards to extricating ourselves from the EU once and for all.
Time and again, I speak to constituents who remind me of the sacrosanctity of this Brexit promise. As a party and a country, we must remember that Brexit is one of the highest priorities for voters in the ‘Red Wall’. This is an opportunity to prove that we know that and that we are politicians of our word. If we break our promise, we risk being complicit in a great betrayal and losing these voters for good. The Government knows this and so has formally informed the European Union that we will not be seeking an extension to the transition period.
But not everyone is convinced. There are calls from some to extend the transition period as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. For me, and for voters across the ‘Red Wall’, a delayed full withdrawal is tantamount to no withdrawal at all. We have already agreed to abide by EU rules, regulations, and judgments for many months after our official exit.
We know from the travails of the last four years that extensions achieve nothing. They just give succour to those who wish Brexit never happened. It is now clear that a small number of hardline Remainers are using the coronavirus crisis to score cheap political points, in the hope that the pandemic will mean Brexit is delayed and diluted.
Some of these people also claim to be speaking on behalf of the people of the ‘Red Wall’ seats in seeking a transition extension. But an extension could not be further from what is wanted or needed in the north. In polling commissioned by the Centre for Brexit Policy for their new report Do Not Delay Brexit: The View from the Red Wall, conducted by Savanta ComRes, voters in the ‘Red Wall’ are opposed to any extension of the transition period, with the majority (51 per cent) believing that the transition period should either remain as it is or even be shortened as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 40 per cent of Conservative voters in the ‘Red Wall’ would be less favourable to the Conservative party should they extend the transition period, which is almost twice the number of those who would look more favourably upon the Government.
What's more, if the Government were to decide to extend the transition period it could lead to a loss of over one third of its new voters in the ‘Red Wall’. 35 per cent of 2019 Conservative voters who voted for Labour in 2017 said an extension would make them less likely to vote Conservative at the next election.
Confidence in the strength and resilience of the UK’s future outside of the EU is marked amongst ‘Red Wall’ voters. Nearly every one of the 12 categories that were considered in the poll saw voters believe that the UK will be worse off if we have to go through a Brexit extension. Notably, an overwhelming majority of voters believe that an extension to the transition period would lead to worse taxation and a deterioration in the cost of living.
The feelings of voters in the north regarding a transition extension are irrefutably clear. These voters understand that coronavirus transcends politics. Instead of delaying our final exit, many northern voters recognise that coronavirus has made our swift exit from the EU all the more critical. The sooner we break free from the EU's rules and regulations, the sooner we can take control of our destiny and make the most of being a free, independent, sovereign nation.
The Withdrawal Agreement was reopened and renegotiated in under three months despite many believing that this was not achievable. The EU has an equal willingness and a need to reach a free trade agreement. So why can't we do the same again? The Conservative party’s electoral future and our country’s prosperity depend on it.
Alexander Stafford is Tory MP for Rother Valley
Originally published in the Spectator: