Article - Journeying towards a Brexit consensus

As I write this column at 5:30 am on Friday 1 February, I am making my way out of London and on to the M3, heading towards Dorchester and points west. 

Snow is falling gently across the windscreen, but I am conscious that the snowfall in Dorset has been anything but light, and I am unsure whether I will be able to reach the meeting that I have scheduled for 08:30 in Charmouth. As this meeting is about the future of the local post office, I am anxious to make it on time. But if that doesn’t prove possible, I shall obviously have to reschedule it for another day. 

As I reflect on this journey, with its snow-bound conditions and its uncertain time of arrival, it occurs to me that there is a close analogy with the current state of the nation. 

Britain too is on a journey. Just as in my south-westerly travel, the broad area of destination has been determined, and the direction is therefore clear. We are heading towards Brexit. The route is snow-bound and the exact timing, as well as the precise location of our arrival, is less certain. 

I reflect also, on the significance of the date. Between the 1st February and the 29th March, there lie just nine weeks. It is no easy challenge to find, in those nine weeks, an agreement which can both obtain the acquiescence of Brussels and acceptance by a majority in our own House of Commons. 

If ever there was a need for compromise - for flexibility about the precise terms and the precise timing of our leaving - there is a need for such compromise and such flexibility now. Only if we approach the matter in that spirit can we ever hope to achieve a smooth and orderly exit, which we once took for granted but which is by no means any longer a given. 

As I make my way through the thickening snowfall and pass the snowfields now occasionally illuminated by my headlights, I come across the scene of an accident on the motorway - and I rededicate myself to the effort that many of us across the parties in the House of Commons are now making, to prevent the national accident of a “no-deal exit” by achieving the consensus required for an orderly Brexit. 

As I do this, I am all too conscious of the disdain with which purists of high principle on each side regard the effort to seek compromise and consensus. 

I have received numerous messages testifying to this disdain - some powerfully and courteously argued, others descending into crude abuse and even threat of violence. 

I recognise the passion and I respect the principle that lies behind these opposing purities. But I have never been surer that the wiser course is to steer between them, seeking to avoid both the Scylla of a second referendum and the Charybdis of an under-prepared no-deal exit.