I had no intention a few moments ago of speaking in this debate, but I would like to say three things that I hope the House will take on board. The first is to appreciate the catastrophic constitutional significance of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. I tried to repeal it in a ten-minute rule Bill in 2015. We all understand why it came into being—it was to be the glue in the coalition Government after the 2010 election—but it should have had a sunset clause. Its effect is now to trammel this Government and our Prime Minister in a very Kafkaesque trap: he is finding it very difficult to govern but is unable to call a general election. I very much hope that the first act of the new Parliament will be to abolish the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
The second point is just to issue a word of caution about the danger that comes with mixing up the difficult, complicated and unresolved issue of Brexit with a potential general election. A general election is, by its very nature, general; we are all up for grabs, and all policies in a manifesto are also there for debate. But Brexit has been the most divisive, poisonous and difficult issue of our life. If we go into a general election with an unresolved Brexit, there is no way that a clear answer on Brexit can be said to emerge from that process. Quite possibly, because of the nature of Brexit and the way that it is pushing our entire post-Victorian party system into near collapse—we may have four-way competitions in almost every constituency—we may find that it does not actually resolve the problem of Government either. I ask this House to appreciate that we are in a dreadful bind and that the binary politics of largely Labour and the Conservatives may be behind us, if not forever, at least for a very, very long time.
My third point is this: I have told my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that, despite some of our past differences, although we worked together very closely in the Foreign Office, I will stick by the Government, but I very much regret, and it is very painful, that 21 of the most decent Members of Parliament whom I very much regard as kindred spirits have lost the Whip. I ask the House to imagine the scene: there is a slightly grotty Victorian building that passes as the headquarters of the local Conservative Association. There are portraits of Disraeli, Churchill and Thatcher on the wall, and perhaps a couple of blank spaces. The chairman is there and the phone rings. Someone says, “Look, I’m a bloke from No. 10. You have never heard of me, but I am afraid your MP has been sacked. You must strike him or her off all the records. You cannot talk to them now and we are going to re-select someone straight away.” The only response that a self-respecting chair can give is, “May I thank you very much for your call, young man? Now bugger off.”
We must appreciate that the constituency is still an essential unit of our democracy. It is the building block that makes this House what it is. There may, of course, be party rules, but we should be very careful about letting party rules be superseded by the control at the centre. I very much hope that, although many of the 21 will be standing down and it matters less to them—it is not the case for some whose career should rightfully be ahead of them—my right hon. Friend and our party system through our Chairman can appreciate that a route should be found back for those who wish to stand again and that all immediate selections for an alternative candidate should be suspended so that it can be known that they have a chance.