Dear ERG,

Have you gone completely stark, staring mad? Glad to have got your attention...

Last week your chairman called on the Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament. This week your actions could scupper Brexit altogether.

You don't want a soft Brexit. I don't want a soft Brexit. But the way you are behaving, we might not get any Brexit at all. 

Let me explain. When Theresa May's deal was published, I thought it was a terrible conclusion to a negotiation that had been completely mishandled. Indeed, because of the Northern Ireland backstop and other reasons I said I'd rather stay in the EU than accept it. Possibly a little dramatic, but that's the world we live in.

Since then, like most people I've done a lot of thinking. I haven't gone soft, but in politics we have to deal with things as they are, not as we would necessarily like them to be. We can complain all we like about how we got here, but we are where we are.

Your decisions over not just the next 60 days, but the next twelve hours will help determine whether we formally leave the EU on March 29th, or maybe if we leave the EU at all.

Parliament has the chance today to vote for an amendment (assuming it is chosen by the Speaker ... let's not go there...) which could give the Prime Minister the authority she needs to return to Brussels and tell them exactly what she wants.

Your group seems to think this is something bad. Let me tell you, what would be bad is if she goes back to Brussels with no idea what she can get through the House of Commons. If the Brady amendment passes the Prime Minister can at least ask for a sunset clause to be agreed on the Backstop.

They may say no. they may say yes, but if she gets that we know that would be enough to get the DUP onside, and presumably at least some of you. You can cling to your ideological purity all you like, but it will get you nowhere. You have to face facts, and the facts are that they will not agree for the backstop to be ditched. They probably won't agree to reopen the existing agreement. What they may well agree to is a legally recognised codicil. That is achievable and surely you can recognise that this is the best we're likely to get.

Like you, I have no fear of leaving on 29th March without a deal, but that ship has sailed. If you seriously think that there wouldn't be enough of your colleagues to put a 'no deal' bill through through the House of Commons, designed to extend Article 50, you are living in a fantasy world.

One of the arts of politics is to learn to count. You didn't do that before Christmas when your attempt to oust the Prime Minister failed. You not only got the numbers wrong, you got the timing wrong. Don't repeat history. Count. Do the numbers. I'm not being defeatest but there are not the parliamentary numbers to defeat a bill to extend Article 50. Think on that when you vote this evening. Because every Conservative vote against Graham Brady's amendment is effectively a vote to extend Article 50 and possibly thwart Brexit altogether.

Yes, it's a ridiculous situation. Of course it is. How can it not be when the Government is to whip its MPs to support an amendment calling for the EU to drop the Backstop which the Government itself had already agreed with the EU. But the farce gets even more farcical when a load of Tory MPs who hate that Backstop are intending to rebel against an amendment whose aim is to at the very least ameliorate it. What a dreadful message this sends to the EU.

The Prime Minister has met you half way at various times in this whole sorry process. It's now time for you to do the same, and demonstrate that you recognise the political reality of where she is and we are. Just as she has compromised, it's now your turn to demonstrate the political maturity to understand that any further digging in can only jeopardise Brexit. If you do not, not only will Article 50 inevitably be extended, but the chances are we would then have the softest of soft Brexits. Surely you must understand that the only majority in parliament at the moment is for some sort of Norway style deal in which we remain allied to the Single Market and the Customs Union.

You didn't vote for that, nor did I, but I can see as clear as night follows day that this is where we are heading. Even worse than that, if Article 50 is extended, even until July, let alone December 31st, the exponents of a Second Referendum will get further wind in their sails and the increasing uncertainty will have a detrimental effect on business investment, which, let's face it, is already suffering. You don't have to be a Remainer, or have been indoctrinated by Project Fear, to recognise this is happening.

The most important thing is to leave on March 29th and move on from there. If we leave then, the People's Vote campaign has been defeated. It's over. They can start a new campaign to rejoin if they like (and they will), but we will have left. I'll say it again. We will be out. Isn't that the most important thing? Think back to the Devolution referendums in the late 1990s. Once devolution happened, there was only one direction of travel. Further separation. Michael Gove is right. There are many analogies to be drawn. 

I realise that there are some of you who actually want to leave with 'no deal' - not most of you, but some. It's an intellectually sustainable position, but doesn't deal with political reality. Surely you must know that.

Many of you are my friends. Most of you are people I greatly respect. I voted Leave for many of the same reasons as you did. But when I see you putting Brexit at risk, forgive me for being blunt in saying so.

All I can ask is that you think about what I have said.

Yours Ever

Iain Dale