The early results of the 2021 Super Thursday elections show a reinforcement of 2019 General Election gains and the return of incumbent administrations in Scotland and Wales.
After two decades of devolution, faith in throwing new subsidies and powers at nationalists to strengthen the Union, is weakening. “Devolve and forget” has not served us well but its simple appeal is proving a hard habit to break.
Formed in the first lockdown, the Conservative Union Research Unit (CURU) counts more than eighty back-bench Conservative MPs in its membership, all committed to strengthening the Union.
We keep members appraised of Union affairs – and Ministers aware of their impact. An Advisory Board of senior members of both Houses, chaired by Andrea Leadsom, knows the ropes and pulls no punches. We worked with whips to deliver government business in the Chamber and behind the scenes we have been building links with all parts of Westminster and across the United Kingdom.
Like the Prime Minister, we firmly reject the doctrines of disengagement and appeasement of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our United Kingdom is the most successful, enduring political union in the world; a family with ties forged in adversity and tended with affection. Who abandons what has been formed and nurtured together?
We believe the story of this union is bound up within our own lives, the work of many hands, not adhering to a single grand idea. A truth at the core of the United Kingdom - whether it’s the NHS, social security, family connections or trade – is a record of shared history, values, experiences and endeavours that give us more in common than not. This sense of belonging and place unites in a way that an abstract constitution cannot. For too long, constitutional innovations have assumed that the party who built them will always run them. Government can help strengthen the connections between us, but it cannot define them, and the country we seek to build must have room for those of all political traditions.
Crucially our Union is a relationship bound by covenant, not contract. It is a deep rooted and affectionate entanglement of life, effort and dreams that has grown up over generations. But paper-thin settlements have shifted effort from nurturing these bonds onto measuring transactions between discrete parts. No relationship can survive decades of keeping scores over keeping faith or the incentive to find fault, not favour. We believe devolution can be improved but Westminster’s sovereignty must be reaffirmed.
Our strength at home has always been our strength in the world. Our shared history and experiences have strengthened relationship, informed our hopes and guided our endeavours. That is the spirit of the Internal Market Act and “building back better”: protecting our flows of trade and business and funneling additional support to where it is needed. Much may be devolved but why would the government of the United Kingdom not remain closely involved in all parts of the country?
Our United Kingdom remains our best response to the challenges of the 21st century. Our future will be shaped as we respond to the challenges we face at home and around the globe. Whether it is climate change, pandemics, technological disruption, or terrorism – the United Kingdom leads the world in developing solutions. Ambitious to lead in standards and ethics. Free to build new relationships in a bigger, global market. We can act, trade and regulate differently, adapting to be effective in a fast-changing world. Leading by example while holding our heads high.
This is a positive vision of working together, overcoming challenges and being a force for good in the world. It offers hope for a young generation, not an inheritance torn apart by borders, dragged down by new currencies encumbered by debt.
The Prime Minister must now lead this. The Queen’s Speech this week is a good place to start: a simple “How does this strengthen the Union?” test should be embedded in all parts of government, across the land. A clear and positive vision of the Union needs to be heard in the homes and heartlands of the United Kingdom. A conversation to be joined with Britons everywhere who want to know the part the United Kingdom has to play in their future, and the part they can play in the future of the United Kingdom.
Those scratching their heads, filled with thoughts of doom, divergence and devolution should take heart: our Union is strong.
Robin Millar MP, is the Chairman of the CURU and the Member of Parliament for Aberconwy
Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP is the Member of Parliament for South Northamptonshire