'I'm not going anywhere', says Grantham MP Nick Boles
Grantham MP Nick Boles won claps and cheers during Friday’s open meeting as he insisted: “I’m not going anywhere, even if I have a different label.”
Around 150 people packed the pews of St Martin’s Church in Stamford, where he spoke on Brexit and the threats to have him removed as the constituency MP.
Division was clear all along, from audience members having heated debates amongst themselves, to the MP telling two people they may be thrown out if they continued disrupting proceedings.
But the most unity came from what seemed to be a majority-remain audience at the event organised by pro-EU campaigners, even though they stressed the meeting was open to all.
During questions, one Grantham and Stamford Conservative Association member said he was “pretty shaken” by a recent interview Mr Boles gave to the Evening Standard where the MP said he was the first to call the Tories “the nasty party”. He added that the fact the MP was working with Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn to stop a ‘no deal’ Brexit “just fills me with horror”.
The Conservative member concluded: “A lot of us don’t want another Quentin Davies – what makes you think you are fit to remain as our MP?”
Mr Boles responded: “Quentin Davies defected to the Labour Party when the Labour Party was in Government. I have been very plain. I could never join the Labour Party or do anything to make it more likely to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister.”
To claps from the audience, the MP continued: “But that doesn’t mean that I am entirely happy with the Conservative Party in its current position. Have I ever been entirely happy? Right from the start I have tried to change the party. I have tried to modernise it, make it more liberal and outwardly looking.”
More claps followed as he continued: “If the Conservative Party can’t live with that, it’s their choice. It’s a democracy.”
Mr Boles then urged people to join the Conservative Party.
He said: “We have had lots of people who have joined the Conservative Party who used to be in UKIP. They have absolutely every right to try and get a candidate who reflects their views more than me.
“If you think I am going to change my views then you have underestimated your member of parliament.”
Another member of the public also raised the issue of the MP’s potential deselection, saying that their MP should be determined by “not 100-200 hardcore extremists” in the Conservative association but the wider community.
Mr Boles then defended his association.
“They are not extremists. There are one to two people who used to be members of UKIP but most do have concerns about the positions I have been taking and the proposals I have been making.
“They are loyal patriotic people who believe that Britain will be better off outside the EU, that I was elected to deliver on that referendum and they believe that I am engaged in frustrating that. This is what I think is the motivation of my critics.
“If I were deselected, I will still be MP whatever happens. I intend to remain the MP until the next election at least. I’m not going anywhere, even if I have a different label.”
The two-hour meeting covered a whole raft of Brexit-related issues, with Mr Boles saying a second referendum would “solve nothing” – describing the prospect as “horrifying”.
He said he envisaged that the UK’s future relationship with Europe would be based on “co-operation and partnership – not structure”. But he insisted the country needed to leave the EU with a deal that protects business, farmers, security and relationships”.
Without a deal, the MP said the UK will “run off a cliff” which is “why I have designed a process to seek a short extension to Article 50 [to delay Britain’s exit] if the PM doesn’t get a deal”.
He went on to add: “In my lifetime I have never seen a political issue that has destroyed friendships of 20 to 30 years standing. I find it utterly appalling. It is a terrible thing we have allowed it to happen.
“Once we have got through this challenge we need a completely new set of leaders not just the [Conservative] leader but the whole leadership and not just the Labour party but everybody who has been involved in the processes has failed in a grievous way.”
He went on to say that he had stood on a manifesto but said the “ultimate test is if you are the candidate again”.
After the event, association chairman Philip Sagar said he had earlier thought Mr Boles’ recent actions might have been the MP’s “last hurrah and he was looking for a way out”.
But he was pleased to see the MP defending the association after him having “upset” so many members with his previous criticism.
South Kesteven District Council leader Matthew Lee (Con) said afterwards: “Nick has always had my support. I just wish he should stop making so many public statements and engage with us more.”
Following Friday night’s meeting, all 50 members of the local Conservative association endorsed a move to give Mr Boles 21 days notice for him to say whether he wants to stand for Parliament again.
If he says he wants to be re-adopted as candidate, he will still need the association’s backing to stand again.
Mr Sagar said it was “good housekeeping” to start the re-adoption process, something already done by neighbouring constituencies, as a General Election could be called at any time.