With few people left to fight for an Britain’s place outside the EU, it may only be a matter of time before we rejoin the bloc
For years, I read Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column with great interest. I was always pleased by his small state, low tax views. His sceptical approach to the EU during and after his tenure as a Brussels correspondent was unfailingly humorous. His opinions never went as far as mine in their opposition to the bloc, but they certainly pointed in the right direction. Perhaps the biggest division between us over the past three decades has been over immigration. Whereas I’ve always been worried about the increasing millions coming to our country, he seemed relaxed.
In 2019, I formed and led the Brexit Party, guaranteeing Theresa May’s political obliteration and, in turn, opening the door to Johnson’s premiership which began that July. Then, at the general election five months later, faced with the possibility of a Labour/Lib Dem second EU referendum, I determined that no Brexit Party candidate would stand against the Conservatives in the 317 seats they had won at the previous general election. This was agreed after Johnson committed to no regulatory alignment and to leaving the EU in 2020. In the end, he did indeed get Brexit done. Since then, however, I can only express disappointment and anger at how things have played out.
Of course there have been some successes and I believe the country stands taller in the world now that we have left the EU. Our services industry is doing remarkably well, and our successful vaccine rollout proves what can be done as an independent country. These things would not have been possible if Johnson had not made the historic decision to back the Leave side in the referendum in 2016. For this, I will be eternally grateful to him. I would even go so far as to say that had he not done so, a quarter of a century of my life would have been a failure. His support got our vote over the line, without question.
But seven years after the referendum, and three years after leaving the EU, immigration – the single most important issue in persuading most people to back Brexit – is higher than ever. In the past year, net migration has hit 606,000. This startling number is seen by me and millions of others as a betrayal of Brexit. Add to that the fact that our small businesses have so far enjoyed none of the benefits of leaving the EU that should by right be theirs, and it is not hard to see why a third of Brexit voters believe the project has failed.
A big part of the problem has been that so many influential individuals and groups never accepted the referendum result. The London-based corporate businesses, much of the media class, and a great deal of the education sector have sought to overturn or undermine the vote at every opportunity. There are no limits to what the anti-Brexit campaigners will do, including portraying Brexit voters as knuckle-dragging racists.
Another figure who was instrumental in trying to overturn the will of the people was the former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who seemed to do his very best to help Parliament secure a second vote. These various attempts to subvert democracy should have come to an end after the Tories, under Johnson, won the general election so resoundingly in December 2019. Let’s not forget how many traditional Labour voters helped to return him to Downing Street.
Altogether, the whole ordeal – which continues to this day – proves Johnson right when he says in his statement: “I am not alone in thinking that there is a witch hunt underway, to take revenge for Brexit and ultimately to reverse the 2016 referendum result.” Yet it is a witch-hunt that the Tories have enabled. And now that they have lost their only senior figure who had populist appeal, the liberal elites are back in control.
Those who believe in Brexit, free markets, and in a small state, have been routed. Look no further than the Windsor Framework. The establishment hailed it as a Brexit breakthrough. In fact, it keeps Northern Ireland cut off from the rest of Britain. Still, despite its shortcomings, only 22 Tory backbenchers voted against it (one of whom was Johnson). We are back to where we were at the time of the Maastricht Treaty, in the early 1990s.
Soon we could face a Labour government which would waste no time in aligning us with single market rules. Under Starmer, Brino – Brexit in Name Only – will take root. Without an opposition to fight for an independent Britain, it will only be a matter of time before we become an associate member of the EU. Brexit will be dead. Our country, along with the rest of the EU, would be condemned to decline.