On the day Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, I was speaking at a conference in Washington DC. There, I met with President Trump, who told me that in his opinion Johnson brings much-needed energy to the job.
After the last three years, in which Theresa May’s government almost seemed to actively enjoy wading through treacle, the president is absolutely right: it has been an impressive first few days for Johnson.
He has made well-crafted speeches, given an excellent performance in the Commons, and announced several eye-catching new initiatives.
It is important to point out, however, that much of what has been said has come straight from the Brexit Party European election playbook. On that basis, I am delighted that after three wasted years, the International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, will go to America to begin talks on a new US trade deal.
New investment proposals for parts of the North of England are also a key policy area for my party. And, crucially, it would appear that a no-deal Brexit is now firmly back on the table. What’s not to like?
All of this has led to a ‘Boris bounce’ in the opinion polls. But bearing in mind that Mrs May told the nation repeatedly that no deal was better than a bad deal, and stated 108 times that the UK would leave the European Union on 29 March 2019, I think the electorate is entitled to show a bit of scepticism about Johnson’s recent proclamations surrounding Brexit. Many of us believed Mrs May – at least initially – and we are not prepared to make the same mistake again.
If Johnson really does deliver on a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, nobody will be more pleased than me. After all, I’ve spent 27 years campaigning for this, and Britain would be a genuinely independent nation.
My suspicion, though, is that all of his tough talk is part of a negotiating position to make Brussels give some ground on the Withdrawal Agreement or, more accurately, on a new EU treaty.
Despite the tough initial reaction from Messrs Juncker and Barnier to Johnson’s demand that the Irish border backstop be dropped, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated there could be a softening of the EU’s position. Yet even if the backstop were to be removed from the equation, this Withdrawal Agreement is a dreadful deal for Britain. It would lead to years of acrimony.
It must not be forgotten that Johnson twice voted against the Withdrawal Agreement but then fell at the final hurdle by voting for it at the third time of asking, back in March. If passing this treaty in Parliament is now the Prime Minister’s ambition for Brexit, my party will vigorously oppose him. For this reason, we are preparing for an autumn general election.
This week we will announce our first 150 candidates. By the end of August, our list will be complete. Most of our key target areas are Labour constituencies in Wales, the Midlands and the North of England.
These areas, traditionally thought of as Labour heartlands, are populated by up to five million people who voted to Leave the EU. While Jeremy Corbyn continues to equivocate in interviews, these voters know that the Labour Party is now a Remain campaign organisation.
Having betrayed them, Labour certainly does not represent them any longer. Crucially, most of the seats in these areas are ones the Conservative Party could never win. The Brexit Party is now the main challenger, as shown in the European elections.
There is much speculation over whether a deal should be done between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives. After all, in the Peterborough by-election, we polled more than 50 per cent of the vote between us and yet lost to Labour, which secured only 31 per cent.
However, the appointment of Dominic Cummings as Boris Johnson’s special adviser in Number 10 means that there is no prospect of such a deal. The Tories want to crush the Brexit Party in the polls.
But Johnson and Cummings may be in for a surprise. Lack of trust in the Conservatives is now a problem; many of us will only a believe in a clean-break Brexit when we see it.
Britain’s best chance of achieving its independence now comes from the Brexit Party. The electoral threat it poses is such that, if the UK does not leave the EU on 31 October, the Conservatives can rest assured they will be annihilated in any subsequent general election.