Pete North, 02/07/2019  

Guest post by Pete.

Us Norths have taken our fair share of Flak for slamming the Farage Party over the years. Primarily we have focused on the total absence of an intellectual foundation - and from that negligence flows all of the subsequent unforced errors. But somewhere along the line, it lost sight of the objective by taking too many shortcuts.

We always took the view that Farage sacrificed steady movement building for rapid growth, hoovering up the BNP votes in the process by pivoting to immigration. This was always a mistake. For all the hard work in establishing Ukip as a non racist party, it was only ever going to end up being tarred with that brush by banging on about immigration. The longer it went on, the more gaffes came to light revealing the party to be made up of Muslim-obsessed "gammon".

Now you can very easily argue that we wouldn't have had a referendum were it not for this shortcut, but it didn't take a genius to work out that winning the referendum would only be a foothold and the movement would need to maintain a vehicle to hold the government's feet to the fire. Having soured the brand, not least by appointing an entourage of quarterwits who wouldn't threaten him, there was nothing salvageable after June 2016. Farage very much wanted it that way. He engineered it so no-one could follow him. 

And now, we are here, in yet another extension, necessitating a new vehicle for the eurosceptic vote. Enter The Brexit Party. A fresh start. The dregs were left behind in Ukip, very possibly kept running as a scapegoat and as a receptacle for the dregs now cast off by Farage.

Being generous, we can say it made a respectable impact at the Euro elections, but then it would struggle not to being that we have not actually left the EU, turnout was only marginally better than the usual low turnout, and Theresa May had lost all of her credibility. With PR being what it is, The Brexit Party would have to spectacularly screw up not to have scored a win.

And then we can say that it most certainly is holding the Tories' feet to the fire. It has them in such a panic that it's almost a dead cert that Boris Johnson will take the leadership. Both remaining candidates are pledging to leave without a deal and both believe the Tories are looking at extinction if we do not leave by November. As far as the Brexit Party is concerned, that's then mission accomplished and their MEPs can stand down. 

This exposes the fundamental breakdown of the eurosceptic movement. This is now less about political outcomes as it is simply having our Brexit day. Brexit for its own sake. The party will then expire as Ukip did or retreat to the margins once more.

But that is far from "mission accomplished". We have long criticised the leave movement over the absence of a plan for Brexit, which has its own consequences, but now there will be no voice to shape what comes afterwards.

Though the immediate future is highly unpredictable, there are certain facts of life that will shape events. Primarily that the UK needs a comprehensive trade and cooperation relationship with the EU, our nearest and largest single trade partner. All the questions we kick into the long grass by leaving without a deal will come back to haunt us. This blog warned from the beginning that a botched Brexit could see us sucked into an associate membership or worse, reabsorption into the EU.

That is why the leave movement needed a long term strategy and a domestic agenda to further incentivise and to leverage the Brexit momentum into more meaningful change. This is why The Harrogate Agenda was rolled up into Flexcit. It was a good idea then, and after three years of our political dysfunction exposed to the light of day, it's an even better idea now.

But who needs a plan huh? Farage is the man who delivered the referendum and will take us over the finish line. Even if we accept that, the bigger question of what next becomes all the more urgent. If we are to leave the EU only for the Westminster establishment to limp on in damage control mode then it is difficult to see what we achieve by any of it. 

But hold your horses! BP's Richard Tice tweets "I’ve just announced at our #BigVisionRally a few of our direct democracy policies: Scrap the vanity project HS2, Halve our bloated foreign aid budget, Don't pay the Brussels bureaucrats £39bn, Cancel interest rates on student fees (including historic rates)". That's right! The Brexit Party is poised to race to the rescue with this visionary package of ideas to take Britain in a whole new direction. This, apparently, is why we fought four long decades to take us out of the EU - to save chump change and implement diktats we were never prevented from doing in the first place. Big vision indeed. That it has taken them this long to realise they need one is telling. 

This is where it becomes abundantly apparent that the Brexit Party is little more than Ukip 2.0, scraping the bottom of the barrel of crowd pleasing populist policies, devoid of any strategy which in the end amounts to much the same sort of managerial tinkering that currently governs us. This reduces the Brexit Party to grubbing around on the fringes for votes with nothing fresh on the menu - and as the party is gifted more publicity the gloss will fade and the usual incompetence and cronyism will creep back in.

As the Tory party is mired in its own identity crisis, a coherent movement with even half a clue could take advantage of the political vacuum, but come the next election, if the Brexit Party is even capable of mounting a nationwide campaign, it will struggle to do any better than Ukip in 2015, while swing voters desert the right entirely. The agenda is then almost entirely in the hands of remainers who will sign us up to anything the EU puts in front of us and will grovel while they're doing it.

There are two basic misapprehensions at work here. Firstly the belief that Brexit is an event and not a long term process, and that Brexit day of itself is not the final objective nor a destination. As ever, Farage has taken another shortcut, preferring the instant gratification of a no deal Brexit where yet again he can walk away and wash his hands of it.

At every stage the Brexit movement has handed the initiative to opponents of Brexit. They could have worked toward a settlement that would have seen the ultra remainers reduced to a petulant fringe - but by embarking on a sustained campaign of no deal propaganda, the entire weight of parliament and the media has turned against them. And rightly so. Even now, in saner corners of the leave camp, they are privately saying they would prefer a delay or even no Brexit than a botched Brexit. It is very possible that sentiment could find a voice before November. The game is not over yet.

As it happens, we don't see any way to salvage it. Johnson's Brexit plan (if we can call it that) is sure to fail, not least because any UK contingent of negotiators sent back to Brussels will be sitting in an empty room twiddling their thumbs. All that's left is the high drama and the exchange of bitter words. That may well be a win for Farage, but it's a body blow for the UK, and in the end, may see the movement's work undone and their political aspirations turn to ashes. That will be the ultimate legacy of Farage.

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