This is pure revisionism, untrue and a dangerous, divisive reinvention of recent history that will stop our country from recovering. I was intimately involved in these events and will try to explain....
Let’s put aside for a moment the rights and wrongs of a ‘soft’ Brexit. (Wrong mainly because no one voted for it in the 2016 referendum; it literally wasn’t on the ballot paper.)
There was a fleeting opportunity for a soft Brexit in 2016 *if* the-then PM had chosen to make delivering Brexit a cross-party endeavour. This is what she should have done on an issue of such strategic national importance, and I told her so at the time.
There was a second missed opportunity after the 2017 General Election delivered a hung Parliament. That is as strong a signal as you get in our democracy that it’s time for a cross-party approach. Theresa May chose to buy a confidence-and-supply agreement with the DUP instead.
By mid-2018, the political reality was that Parliament’s choice was between a confirmatory referendum or a Hard (‘No Deal’) Brexit because enough of the Conservative party wanted a ‘clean’ Brexit and the rest either couldn’t agree on an alternative or didn’t care either way.
That is why I resigned as a minister in June 2018. I couldn’t be part of a Government that was blind to the inevitable outcomes of its Brexit policy: Britain leaving the EU with a minimal deal and a change in the country’s direction towards a more nationalist and populist agenda.
A few Tories saw this - Bebb, @Anna_Soubry, Grieve, me - and helped form a tight cross-party group of MPs to find a solution. The so-called “Trains and Buses” group had more impact at Westminster in 2018-19 than anyone realised. By Sept 2018, the group had a deliverable plan.
We had to respect the country’s choice in 2016 & find a democratic way to avert the worst outcomes. In practice, this meant a confirmatory referendum (so people could give their informed consent) on a workable plan for soft Brexit that had Parliament’s support (likely May’s deal)
We also had to persuade colleagues of all parties to act in the national - not self - interest. We knew that the great majority of Labour MPs would vote for a referendum & against any hard Brexit. ‘Remain’ Tory MPs held the key - fear of their Tory associations was the main issue
In mid-2019 a few ‘senior’ Conservatives finally decided to try and see off a Hard Brexit by pushing for a soft one. But the self-styled “rebel alliance” had failed to grasp that any version of soft Brexit was then politically undeliverable. At best, they delayed the inevitable.
(Another quick aside: there were *no* leaks from the Trains and Buses group until the “rebel alliance” joined us. Their posturing was at times self-serving, unhelpful and broke the wider group’s trust. The lack of previous leaks is why the T & B group remains relatively unknown)
Tory leadership bids in June 2019 perpetuated the myth that the Tories could deliver a ‘soft’ Brexit in Govt. And predictably failed: the hard-Brexit European Research Group was controlling events and would never have supported a soft Brexit. Johnson was always going to win.
The ‘Benn Group’, which formed in summer 2019, successfully delivered an Act that stopped the Government from forcing through a No Deal Brexit. What it failed to do, mainly because of the early General Election, was agree a solution. In time, that would have been a referendum.
In short, we’re where we are because 1) ‘Remainer’ Tory MPs (May, Tugendhat, Greene etc) and former MPs (Stewart, Rudd, Hammond etc) did not grasp the fact that the only politically deliverable Parliamentary outcomes in late 2018 were a confirmatory referendum or a hard Brexit.
(Also: The People’s Vote realised too late that persuading Tory MPs was critical. Some of us started The Right To Vote campaign in early 2019 to help. We needed a Cabinet Minister to resign and three were receptive. Didn’t happen though.)
2) Jeremy Corbyn’s team were happy to create political chaos because, in their minds, from such chaos would come their revolution. Most Labour MPs knew this and realised there was no agreed soft Brexit compromise. Hence the growth in support for a confirmatory referendum in 2018
3) Jo Swinson’s baffling decision to go for a GE in late 2019. This was heavily based on flawed polling analysis not political reality. We were slowly winning the Brexit parliamentary race, then one of our own side spiked it. Hubris won through.
We came very close, though. Those of us (from all parties) who recognised the political dynamics and realities early found a democratic solution the country could live with and were just nine votes short of the Parliamentary majority needed to deliver it.
(Our whipping operation, impressively run by just two MPs (one Tory, one Labour), was on the mark through the entire saga, much more so than the Govt whips office.)
For some to try to rewrite events so as to absolve themselves is wrong. Predictable but still wrong. Plenty of people behaved badly. But ultimately, this is about systems failure. Our political system spectacularly failed our country.
Over my decades in politics, I have seen first-hand too much hubris, self-serving decision-making & appalling behaviour at Westminster; too little integrity & effort to get to grips with complex issues. The result of these personal failings is the #Brexit we’ll get on 1 Jan 2021.
We need more people in politics and public life who are better-motivated. People who, when push comes to shove, can be relied on to act with honesty, care and diligence. And the electorate needs to support them.
Not everyone comes out of this badly. Brexit was always in the SNP’s self-interest but they supported our collective effort with honesty, energy & integrity. A number of Labour MPs distinguished themselves. The ERG’s determination, consistency & hard work is also to be respected.
The rest of the Tories are a case study in the depths to which political & public life has sunk. At best, they were intellectually & morally weak. At worst, they actively lied (to the nation & themselves), putting personal interest & the pursuit of power above the public interest
The sooner we recognise this, the sooner we can start to correct the flaws and heal as a country. When future political historians write about our times, they will conclude that our politics failed our nation - indeed our four nations. Let’s accept this and do better.

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More from @DrPhillipLee

9 Nov
POST-BREXIT: Kupchan (Biden Foreign Policy Adviser) - “The bottom line is that Brexit is an act of self-isolation. Britain (is) no longer the bridge to Europe it (has) been. The UK is going to have to figure out how to make itself relevant at a time when it is inwardly focussed”.
POST-SUEZ: Acheson (US Sec of State) - Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role. The attempt to play a separate power role — that is, a role apart from Europe, a role based on a ‘special relationship’ with the United States, a role based on being head of a...
....’commonwealth’ which has no political structure, or unity, or strength — this role is about played out.” A senior adviser to the President-Elect of our closest ally indicates we’re no further forward in 2020 in determining an effective role in the world than we were in 1962.
Read 4 tweets
10 May
This Govt is appallingly, consistently inept. By not taking obvious decisions in Jan/Feb it has already unnecessarily killed tens of thousands & is destroying our we’ve got this idiotic #StayAlert message. It is hard to stress enough: IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS
No one with half a brain could read about #ExerciseCygnus (based on a relatively mild ‘flu for which a vaccine would have been available quickly) & *not* conclude that we were hideously unprepared for the more virulent and not-yet-treatable #COVID19…
In these circumstances, ANY half decently-motivated Government that was reasonably balanced would put measures in place early to contain the virus and protect people, particularly those most at risk, while working for a global solution (we won’t be safe unless everyone is).
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This isn’t accurate. In January, what were our ventilator and testing capacities? When did @MattHancock first read the Exercise Cygnus report from 2016? How can he claim we were one of the best prepared? Compared to who? We knew of #COVID19 threat in January. Why decision delays?
And here are a few other questions which should be asked at the #COVID19 briefing this afternoon - and repeatedly until we get honest and satisfactory answers.....
Why did the Govt at the time of Exercise Cygnus choose not to publish the final report, or at least share it with key partners? How could highlighting the ventilator shortage in the NHS acute sector not be in the national interest? It would have given us time to prepare
Read 10 tweets
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We could have been ready for #COVID19. That’s what makes me so angry about this Government’s mishandling of this pandemic....1/
In late 2016, I took part in a government exercise to test how we’d deal with a pandemic when I was at @MoJGovUK. It was called Ex Cygnus. @cabinetofficeuk was in charge of running it and acting on the conclusions @NickFerrariLBC… ...2/
This was a well-developed 3-day exercise. Ministers had to decide what to do as the overwhelming scale of the pandemic became apparent. (NB in contrast to #COVID19, there was a treatment for, and vaccine against, this virus; yet the realities & outcomes were still sobering) 3/
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27 May 19
On #Brexit, these #EUelections2019 show that, if a political party stands in the middle of the road, it gets squashed. That‘s what I predicted when I resigned from Government last year. And it’s what has happened to @Conservatives and @UKLabour
So what next? If the purpose of government is to follow the will of the people (at any cost), the only politically viable Brexit is a hard one (WTO etc). But neither major political party will get a Westminster majority by delivering Hard Brexit without explicit public consent
And forget any soft Brexit. It’s not politically viable (for the record, I’ve always held that it’s the worst of both worlds) and anyone thinking we get further concessions from the @EU_Commission by playing hardball is living in cuckoo land. The WA is it, take it or leave it
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4 Dec 18
What a day for #Brexit! All in all, we’re in a more powerful place now to do what’s right for the country.
‘No deal’ is dead: the @EUCourtPress Advocate General‘s opinion is that the UK can unilaterally revoke article 50 under certain circumstances. So we don’t have to leave the EU without a deal unless we’re irrational enough to decide that’s what we want
Parliament will rightly now be able to consider the Government’s legal advice on the ‘Withdrawal Act’ before it has to vote whether or not to accept the Govt’s #Brexit deal next Tuesday
Read 5 tweets

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