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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Populism Is Just Beginning

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At 11pm U.K. time on Friday 31 January 2020, an historic and liberating event will take place. A grassroots rebellion that just 10 years ago was opposed by almost all of Britain’s political and media class has succeeded, and we are leaving the European Union. There are some who will say this is a result of a sense of British exceptionalism. Others might hold it up as proof that we are an island nation which has never fitted into the European club. My own fight with the EU came about because of a wish to be free of the bureaucratic, anti-democratic, supranational structures based in Brussels. This battle has dominated my life for the last 27 years.

For much of that time, I felt that I might become a patron saint of lost causes. Indeed, even as I face my last few days as a Member of the European Parliament, it is still hard to believe that Brexit is really happening. There are skirmishes to come over fishing rights, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and the extent to which we break away from alignment with the EU’s rules. Friday 31 January marks a point of no return, however.

The abuse that I have received over many long years is, finally, diminishing as Brexit has become the mainstream view. The globalist establishment’s threats and warnings of impending financial doom being inflicted upon our country have receded. Our parliament, which for 30 months indulged in the political equivalent of trench warfare, has been hosed down and brought to heel following last month’s general election. The war is over, even if some people, like Labour Party peer Lord Adonis, have childishly refused to use the new 50p coin commemorating Friday’s momentous date—an exercise in denialism akin to signing up for the Flat Earth Society.

There is a new mood of optimism in the U.K. This is already being felt in the property market. Similarly, long-term investment decisions are coming out of mothballs. Populism has triumphed as we return to being a self-governing, independent, normal nation.

In the political corridors of Brussels, Berlin and Paris the tremors of Brexit are now being felt. In the members’ coffee bar in Strasbourg two weeks ago, Eurosceptics from many countries told me that if the U.K. is seen to prosper having released itself from the EU’s tentacles, their own countries will follow suit. At the moment, they all criticize the centralization of power and the undemocratic nature of decision-making, but none dare to suggest leaving.

I hope that the courage and conviction Britain has shown will lead them by example. There is no doubt that in economic terms, a tangible fear now exists that the U.K. will become a competitor on the EU’s doorstep. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said as much already. The EU’s single market, with its level playing field, regulations and protective tariffs, is designed to stop competition. It is a new economic model of corporatism where a few big businesses work with big politics to their own advantage. For small and medium-sized businesses, however, the whole thing is a nightmare.

If Boris Johnson keeps his promise for Britain to be free of the EU rule book, we can implement a model of capitalism that will hasten the end of the European project. The U.K.’s economy is the equivalent size of the 18 smallest member states of the EU. Make no mistake, our departure is a fatal blow to the concept of the European single market and a shattering blow to Brussels generally.

Criticism of Eurosceptic populism in Brussels equates the campaign to modern-day fascism and there are feelings of genuine hatred towards its exponents. I know this because many bars, restaurants and coffee shops in Belgium’s capital city will not allow me to enter their premises. Yet the truth is that I want Europe to leave the EU so that this supranational body can be dislodged and countries can return to being sovereign, independent and happy to co-operate with each other, like neighbors living in the same street. Indeed, over the course of the next few years, I will try to help democratic groups across Europe to achieve their independence as well.

In most areas of our national life, Britain follows trends that are set by the USA. This particularly applies to American business and culture. But in the case of this country’s decision in June 2016 to vote for Brexit, I like to think that we set the hare running that led to Donald Trump’s extraordinary victory a few months later. This triumph of U.S. populism shocked and stunned the political establishment and much of the mainstream media, too. Just as some of the Remain faction in the U.K. still refuses to accept the result of our Brexit referendum, however, the campaign to delegitimize Donald Trump soldiers on.

The fact is that the liberal elite of the 21st century only hold true to their “democratic principles” when the result suits them. The current impeachment process is a case in point. The deal-maker Trump may not have acted as regards President Zelenskiy of Ukraine in a way that Washington insiders expected, but his behavior hardly constitutes a high crime. Trump’s opponents have been searching for an excuse to impeach him regardless. I believe his supporters and sympathizers in the country beyond Washington will only like him more because of the impeachment hearings. They know that this is a political game. To his great credit, Trump has stuck by his pledges to the American people. He is seen to be on the side of ordinary American citizens and against the elites. This is a key factor in all populist success.

While the midterms were punishing for the Republicans, I cannot currently identify a Democratic candidate who will beat Donald Trump in the head-to-head debates. On that basis, I fully anticipate four more years of the Trump administration, and I will continue to be his biggest cheerleader on this side of the Atlantic. When the World Economic Forum met in Davos this month, it was clear to me that its members had still not learned the lessons of 2016. They simply cannot see that belief in the concept of the nation state is here to stay. As they champion diversity in everything but thought, this annual gathering belongs firmly in the past eras of Clinton, Obama, Blair and Cameron. It has no place in the world in the 2020s.

The populist wave has only just begun building, and I feel honored to be one of its early exponents. In the course of the coming months, I shall look forward to commenting on this historic battle for Newsweek. You can disagree with me if you like, but don’t ignore me. Once, everybody laughed at my speeches. They aren’t laughing now.

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