Richard North, 18/02/2018  

It occurred to me as I followed the drama of Ukip's leadership turmoil that the people who have done the damage to the party are not those who resigned – often in disgust or despair at the party's behaviour – but those who stayed in it or joined after I had left.

Despite being the only political party dedicated to leaving the EU, it failed to take a lead role in the referendum and, since then, has barely contributed to the post-Brexit debate, degenerating into warring factions that has now spawned Gerard Batten as the interim leader.

If the ejection of Henry Bolton as Ukip leader hasn't spelt the death-knell of the party, then the appointment of Batten will complete the process. In the lead in declaiming Article 50 as a trap, and one of those who is convinced that the EU is a Nazi construct, the longer he is in post, the more damage he will do.

Meanwhile, filling the vacuum left by Ukip's multiple inadequacies, is a sinister group of right-wingers, coalescing across the Atlantic to form a coalition of think-tanks to pursue their anti-regulation, "free trade" agenda in the form of a UK-US trade agreement.

Their identity has apparently been released by accident after the premature publication of a report on Daniel Hannan's Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) website (now removed).

On the American side, we have the AEI, the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The Cato Institute – which was founded by billionaire oil refiner, Charles Koch – is planning to write the first draft of an "ideal" trade agreement between the UK and the US.

On this side of the Atlantic, we have the IEA, the Legatum Institute (rather predictably), the Adam Smith Institute, Civitas and the Policy Exchange – which hosted foreign secretary Johnson's Brexit speech last week.

Interestingly, Johnson features in the Booker column this week, when his rallying cry on Brexit left some of us wondering, not for the first time, whether he has quite the secure grasp on reality we expect from a Foreign Secretary.

Booker remarks that, as he enthused about Britain "going global" he looked forward to the day when we can start scrapping all those "intolerable" EU regulations.

But as Booker first noted back in 2013, under the heading "Forget Brussels – now we are ruled by the giants of Geneva", what no UK politicians seem to have noticed is the revolution whereby so much EU regulation now originates from global bodies even higher than Brussels, which merely passes it on.

At the time, Efta had just reported that "more than 90 percent" of the EU's single market rules now came from UN and other global bodies, such as the OECD, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), all of which had to be faithfully transcribed into EU law.

Thus, avers Booker, what Boris will discover is that "going global" will mean that we still have to obey almost all those same global regulations, In the trade it's called "the double coffin lid". You escape from one coffin, only to discover there's another one even bigger outside it.

However, Hannan's IFT benefitted from the presence of Johnson at its launch – who made available Foreign Office premises for the event (possibly in breach of the ministerial code), and he has the enthusiastic support of Liam Fox's Department of International Trade.

Thus, while Johnson's ignorance undoubtedly contributes to the lack of any reference to the structure of world trade and the role of global regulation, there is also this more sinister agenda at work, dominating the right wing Brexit ambitions.

Not content merely to leave the European Union, these people are seeking to exploit it as an opportunity to promote their own political doctrines, based on the notions of free trade and minimal regulation, supposedly guided by the model of the economy in Singapore.

Having met most of the players on both sides of the Atlantic, and known and followed their work for decades, one is struck not by their grasp of the subject but by their most profound ignorance of how the global trading system actually works.

But this ignorance is doctrine-based. They know nothing of the system because they don't want to know. Ultimately, they are wreckers, determined to tear down the existing order and replace it with their own.

Their initial targets, as the Guardian points out, are food and agricultural standards and public procurement. In the second grouping, the glittering prize is access to NHS contracts for US health care enterprises, leading to charge that the Brexit agenda conceals a plot to privatise the NHS.

Inasmuch as this right wing grouping would indeed wish to see the break-up of the NHS, there is some truth in the charge, although it cannot be said that this ambition represents the Brexit movement as a whole, or even a significant part of it.

It would be more accurate to say that Brexit is being exploited for doctrinaire purposes – a complication we could do without, not least because it fuels left wing hostility to EU withdrawal. Linking Brexit with a plot to dismantle the NHS could be a powerful weapon for remainers determined to reverse the referendum result.

Almost as powerful is the symbolism of "chlorinated chickens" and hormones in beef, which has been used to illustrate the potential effects of a trade deal with the US. And while the impact of cheap US produce on UK agriculture is perhaps not as severe as might be imagined, this is another issue which can be recruited by remainers to their cause.

To that extent, the worst enemies of Brexit, far beyond the incompetence of Ukip, are these highly motivated and influential right wingers. With considerable funding from wealthy donors, they are hijacking the Brexit process, taking it far beyond any imaginable mandate that the referendum might have conferred.

They are quick to say that the vote requires us to leave the Single Market, thus claiming an electoral mandate – despite the claim being highly questionable – but by no stretch of the imagination can the referendum result be considered a carte blanche for turning the UK into a bastardised version of Singapore.

That they lack a mandate for such a fundamental change, however, undoubtedly explains the underhand way in which the agenda is being rolled out. As a centrepiece to a general election campaign, this would almost certainly ensure victory for Labour – which is why it has never been put openly to the electorate.

The core agenda, as it stands, involves abandoning our longstanding trading arrangements with Europe, and their replacement with what amounts to an "Anglosphere" trading association, based loosely on the white Commonwealth and the United States.

Having never been put to the electorate, it is thoroughly dishonest, with the promoters entirely meriting the epithet "sinister". Were the full agenda to become publicly known, it could damage the support for Brexit to such an extent that the whole process could founder.

We are thus confronting the enemy within. Although they wear eurosceptic clothes, they are no friends of Brexit. In pursuing their own interests, they are squeezing us between left and right and, ultimately, could destroy any hopes of achieving a rational Brexit.

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