About a year ago, over a pint with Nigel Farage, it became clear that our little attempt to get on with our lives was over. He had been sounding out a few people and the bald reality had struck home. The Prime Minister, despite her repeated mantra of leaving by 29th March was going to let us down. Farage had always said that ‘if they made a Horlicks of it I would have to return’. They had, so we would have to.
Wearily at first, but with gathering purpose, people across the country started rummaging in their cupboards, sheds and under the stairs. We weren’t looking for greaves and breastplates, nor rusty halberds, but pulling out notebooks and files of addresses and contacts. By 29th March we were ready. The Brexit Party was born. With new purpose, an astonishing team of professionals in the office and an amazing roster of champions from all walks of life, we were ready to take on the professionals who had failed to deliver the result of the referendum. Politicians had failed after two and a half years to deliver on the greatest mandate in this country’s long democratic history. They had failed to set us free.
The purpose of the Brexit Party was to force this zombie parliament to honour its democratic debt to the people. And boy how it sent a shiver through the moribund body politic. Within hours of cleaning up at the European election, the May regime lay shattered.
Apart from the bien pensant, rattling out prose for the broadsheets, it was clear to those beyond the confines of SW1 that Boris Johnson was the only person with the slightest hope of taking things forward. Why the Tories even bothered with the charade of a leadership contest is hard to know. But so it came to pass. Boris was duly anointed. People cared about one thing and one thing only: can he, to borrow a phrase, ‘get Brexit done’?
Looking at the polls since Boris settled into No 10, it is clear that yes, people do think he can.
But here’s the rub. He could get Brexit done, but he has been hidebound by the Civil Service and the commanding heights of the establishment. So instead of doing what was expected by the 17.4 million, he faltered. Instead of making a proper play for a clean break Brexit and setting up a period of negotiation from strength rather than subservience, Boris told the world we would be out by Halloween, while claiming that his top priority was ‘a deal’. Music to the ears of our friends in Brussels and their fellow travellers at home. Yet again a PM went into the negotiation room hamstrung, and sure enough he returned triumphant from Brussels with a treaty that is Mrs May’s treaty in a blonde wig and leopard print kitten heels.
So what is Farage and the Brexit Party to do in these circumstances? And haven’t we been here before? I cannot recall how many times I have heard this from very serious (read complacent) people whose sense of superiority is topped only by their ignorance of what people actually think. ‘Nigel, well done, very well done, now don’t you think it’s time that you hung up your spurs and left it to us to deal with?’. ‘Nigel, politics is the art of the possible, what you want is impossible, the parliamentary arithmetic just won’t allow it.’ ‘Nigel, isn’t it time you just piped down, Boris is here and we can trust him.’
Trust him? Trust the Tories, you have to be having a laugh. Has anybody ever, man or woman, ever done well out of trusting Boris? A Survation poll at the weekend made for interesting reading. Asked a whole swathe of questions, ranging from: ‘Do you think the UK or the EU benefits most from the deal’ to ‘Who has made most concessions?’, the public believes the UK has been shafted and Boris is playing games with them. But when asked if they want a deal, the numbers change. 78 per cent had ‘the government’s deal’ as their first or second preference outcome, compared to 51 per cent for Remain and 47 per cent for no deal.
This is the impact of project delay and demoralise. Now there is a good salesman – and Boris is a good salesman – the public would prefer anything to more delay.
But look at the deal itself, look at what it fails to deliver and then listen to those who would throw in the towel. The ERG, and even Boris himself would probably have walked through the No lobby if this offer was presented by Theresa May. I could go in depth about the failures of Boris Johnson’s new treaty. The liabilities we retain through the European Investment Bank (over £400 bn if you are interested); the dangers to our ability to act as an independent trading nation created by the level playing field; the treatment of our fisheries and coastal communities as a bycatch – to be chucked lifeless into the North Sea; and yes our annual subscription of £33bn to be a member of a club to which we have already torn up our membership card. And don’t even start me on the betrayal of Northern Ireland.
While Westminster has spent this year gathered around John Bercow’s navel, the Brexit party has been touring the country. In Telford, in Camborne, in Sedgefield, in Featherstone, in Newport and Watford and a dozen others places the length and breadth of these islands, over 40,000 people have paid to take part in our events, tens of millions have seen our videos, and millions of pounds have been raised in small donations. While Westminster and No. 10 sneer at him, as ‘a not a fit and proper person’ to be in politics, millions of people see in Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party hope. Hope that honour in politics has not disappeared, hope that there are still politicians who will not accept failure as success.
The Brexit Party are well aware that people are tired and browbeaten, and have for now chosen Boris. But if this execrable deal does pass, and that’s a big if, who will still be there when people realise that the UK is still a ‘vassal state’ of the EU?
Back when Farage started, less than 2 per cent of people thought it would be possible to leave the EU. Today a vast majority know that it is possible – and it is why the anti-democratic rearguard is so shrill. Today, the same voices that told us to pipe down in the past, to trust Hague, to trust Dave, to trust Theresa, to trust Boris, are out in force. They are fair-weather friends. Right now to turn down the volume would not just be betraying the country. It would be betraying our conscience and the hopes of generations yet to come.
It’s not going to happen.
Gawain Towler is Head of Press for the Brexit Party