Ben Howlett, who actively campaigned to Remain in the EU prior to the referendum, announced at a meeting with Bath for Europe on 18th November that he intends to vote to trigger Article 50 if it comes to Parliament.
At the same time Ben claimed that he still believes it is essential that the UK maintains as close trading links with the EU as possible and told Bath for Europe that we are playing an essential part in the debate, and that it is more important than ever that they continue to campaign and make their voice heard.
Bath’s vote to stay in the EU was one of the highest in the country, with 70% of votes cast in the city in favour of remaining. In light of this, we asked Mr Howlett for reassurance that he would be representing his constituents’ wishes. He responded that on this occasion he must put the interests of the world and the country above those of his constituents. He is going to vote for Article 50 because, he argued, it would allow businesses some certainty. They could plan for the date of the split even if they had no idea of the terms.
When pressed by Bath for Europe, Mr Howlett admitted that there is no such thing as certainty or clarity when it comes to Brexit. He said that the European divorce could end up anywhere on the spectrum between a chastened and humbled Britain asking to rejoin the EU (on far less favourable terms) 5-6 years down the line, and a strong and confident country bolstered by free trade agreements with the rest of the world and good access to European markets. But he also said that a nightmare scenario was possible: we could fall out of the EU two years after triggering Article 50, with no agreement with either the European Union or the World Trade Organisation, and face massive tariffs on all trade.
When asked “Do you ever go to bed thinking that you are playing Russian roulette with the future of the country?” his reply was short and succinct: “Yes every single night.”
Our impression was that Ben and his colleagues really have no idea where they are taking us, they have no plan and no timescale, and they are in crisis management role. They are grasping at straws of certainty hence the determination to trigger Article 50 which can be presented as ‘making progress’ and makes them feel that they are doing ‘something’. No surprises there then.
Members of Bath for Europe demonstrate outside Ben Howlett’s Charles Street Office.