“This has been a horrible period of my political life,” he admitted at one level in our interview. “I certainly would like to be out of the Commons.”
It is a week since the Conservative whip was stripped from the former Cabinet loyalist whose mind and intuition for consensus as soon as helped pilot the coalition authorities safely, however which this yr masterminded the historic parliamentary counter-coup to cease a no-deal Brexit.
“It feels rather surreal,” he mirrored on being solid out of the parliamentary celebration together with 20 different senior MPs, together with Father of the House Ken Clarke and Winston Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames. “The first I discovered it had formally been withdrawn was when Conservative Campaign HQ very properly wrote to me to say ‘did I hold any Conservative data’, which I don’t,” Sir Oliver mentioned.
An hour after our interview, he phoned to say he had simply found a voicemail from Chief Whip Mark Spencer giving him the information, a message that had gone unheard for a week.
He has accepted his fate with out rancour. “It doesn’t make me angry in the sense that it was a perfectly legitimate process. It isn’t as if we didn’t know what we were doing.” Politicians, he identified, had a obligation “to try, roughly speaking, to do what is kind-of the right thing”, even when it was painful.
Sir Oliver has the comfort of being assured that he and his allies have prevented a disorderly crash-out from the EU on October 31, although he admitted he was nervous as much as the second that the Queen gave royal assent to the Act requiring an Article 50 extension if no withdrawal settlement is authorised.
Did he concern that No 10 had recent tips up their sleeve? He bridled: “There’s no question of tricks here. I think we still live in a society that is under the rule of law. This is not a game. This is about the fate of our fellow countrymen, the economy and the livelihoods of many of our fellow citizens. It isn’t a question of clever tricks, or ploys… it’s about what is the right outcome. If we care about anything, we care about the fact that once the law has been decided by our parliament it must be obeyed.”
He predicted the cross-party Act of Parliament would survive even when the Government appeals all the technique to the Supreme Court. It was the consequence of months of conferences, involving a solid of MPs, attorneys, clerks and advisers with Letwin at the mental core.
The hardest half of the train, he revealed, was getting sign-off for the closing wording from the various vary of politicians concerned.
“What takes time is not drafting or procedure but getting consensus among people of widely varying allegiances,” he mentioned. The distinction between Sir Oliver’s affected person bridge-building and the Prime Minister’s “die in a ditch” techniques is compelling.
Did he agree with the Scottish enchantment courtroom ruling yesterday, following a problem led by SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC, that prorogation was simply a ploy to “stymie” debate in Westminster? He mentioned the reality would solely come out when No 10 is pressured to reveal its confidential communications or else “be found to be in contempt of Parliament”.
Shedding new gentle on the insurgent techniques, he revealed that if it hadn’t been for prorogation, the Commons would have voted to take a seat by means of “most of the party conference season this year”.
Sir Oliver additionally revealed that his soundings make him sure that the European Union will not agree one other extension of Article 50 past January except there is an distinctive cause, such a second referendum. So a recent countdown is already starting.
“My personal preference remains for a deal,” mentioned Sir Oliver, reminding us that he voted thrice for Theresa May’s settlement and would again it, or one thing comparable, once more.
If a deal might not cross by means of the Commons then he would assist a confirmatory referendum “to bring this to a close”.
But, nonetheless looking for consensus, Sir Oliver was cautious of the winner-takes-all nature of one other referendum. “In a democracy that voted 52-48 in favour of leaving … I think the only way to knit the country together is by compromise,” he mentioned. “The best way to get that is through a deal rather than a referendum.”
He would undoubtedly oppose attempting to determine Brexit in the hurly-burly of a normal election marketing campaign. And he is fairly positive MPs are able to maintain suspending the election till after Brexit is determined.
“I can’t see how you can do that [resolve Brexit] very well in a general election where it will get, as Alan Duncan said in a marvellous speech this week, all muddled up in other things,” he mentioned.
Was he in settlement with Tom Watson, the deputy Labour chief, who yesterday referred to as for a referendum to be held earlier than the election? Sir Oliver replied: “We need to resolve this issue of Brexit before there is a general election so that the election can be about who you want to have govern you, and so the resolution of the Brexit issue is separate. I would prefer that and, like Tom, I would prefer that to be done through the acceptance of a deal in Parliament.”
And the place would that depart the Prime Minister’s plea for an instantaneous normal election with Brexit on the poll paper?
Sir Oliver replied in a musing tone: “I’ve heard all types of predictions of the election timing — subsequent week, subsequent minute, subsequent day — however I’ve by no means been assured they had been proper as a result of I believe we’ll get a majority in the House of Commons who agree with the view that I take, which is that it is higher to get the Brexit points resolved first and have an election after.
“That means both you get a deal and get it in place, which is comparatively fast, or you have got a deal adopted by a referendum, which is comparatively lengthy.”
So, is he saying a Brexit election, which the PM needs to be held this autumn, could be blocked by Parliament? “I believe it is a proposition that is more likely to go on being defeated. The Prime Minister can put that proposition any quantity of occasions however I don’t assume it is one which is engaging to a majority in the House of Commons.
“The cause is that it muddles issues up. Elections are selected the foundation of all types of considerations that folks have about whom they wish to have govern them. The Brexit concern is a totally different form of concern.”
If he is proper, an early election might be potential provided that the PM will get a deal. But if it goes to a referendum, it might be delayed till summer season 2020 at the least.
Would he assist the concept of a authorities of nationwide unity to take cost if the Johnson administration tries to break down itself by means of a confidence vote? Sir Oliver mentioned he would all the time search the continuance of a Conservative authorities. He would not speculate on any options besides to say firmly that Jeremy Corbyn would not get sufficient assist in the House to be an interim prime minister.
How about Mr Clarke as a unity PM? “I’m not going to spend my time speculating about such things,” Sir Oliver mentioned.
Should Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s controversial senior adviser, be fired? Sir Oliver mentioned he is “not responsible for the PM’s staffing decisions” however identified: “I don’t think the strategy that Dominic Cummings has followed is a sensible one.”
Had Mr Johnson been kind of formidable than he had anticipated? “He is very formidable and he’s got huge qualities. I’m pretty much in favour of almost all the things he is doing. There is just one we really disagree about.” Of his personal future, Sir Oliver mentioned he would settle for the Tory whip again if it was provided with out strings. “I’m not going to start negotiating or making conditions or making applications,” he mentioned. “If they wish to restore it, they can.”
Sir Oliver has mentioned he is standing down as an MP at the subsequent normal election, however would retire tomorrow from Westminster if he might? “Nothing would please me more. I didn’t really want to be here anyway at this point in my life. I found myself in a position where I thought it was a matter of honour to fulfil my commitment to my constituency association [West Dorset] and stand in 2017, which I didn’t really want to do.”
Had he thought of “taking the Chiltern Hundreds”, the conventional methodology for an MP to resign forward of an election? “Yes, I have repeatedly thought about that for some time now. My view is … I am under an obligation while I am here to carry on and try to do the right thing. Once there is a general election I really feel I will have done my bit.”