My Tory Brexit friends should hang their heads in shame | Ian Birrell

Ken Clarke has been in superb form since becoming the only Conservative MP with the bottle to vote against the Brexit bill, despite so many more sharing his belief that it is counter to national interests. The former chancellor was scathing about suggestions that countries will queue up to give Britain beneficial trade deals. Although never really a party moderniser, he also made pertinent points about the retoxification of the Tories, arguing that the country has in effect fallen under the control of a group of former fringe rebels.

In one telling passage of his speech to parliament last week – slating the Alice in Wonderland vision of Brexit – he said that Enoch Powell would “probably find it amazing that his party had become Eurosceptic and rather mildly anti-immigrant, in a very strange way, in 2016. Well, I am afraid that, on that issue, I have not followed it, and I do not intend to do so.” Quite right too. Nor do I intend to jump on this nativist bandwagon. Yet among the tragedies of recent events has been the fact that this fear-filled mood of division and intolerance was aided by people I once stood alongside in attempting to modernise the Conservatives.

I do not blame Theresa May, although she first branded Tories “the nasty party” and now drives Britain into the wall of hardline Brexit. As prime minister she has no option but to respect the referendum result, although I quibble with her interpretation that immigration controls are more important…


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