The most enjoyable aspect of election night and its aftermath has been witnessing the sheer horror on the faces of Westminster’s Remainer elite.
For while this election outcome is a huge political achievement for Boris Johnson, I think it is, above all, a triumph for those in England and Wales who live beyond the M25. They have trounced the establishment.
As a result of Johnson’s victory, we now know that Brexit is going to happen; that the threat of a Marxist government has been crushed; and that the prospect of a second referendum has been obliterated. The people have spoken and they have made it abundantly clear that they are in favour of these things. The only outstanding questions are whether Johnson will honour his manifesto commitment to secure a Canada-style trade deal with the EU, and whether Britain will get the clean-break Brexit that so many Leavers crave.
As I reflect on 2019, I am convinced that if the Brexit Party had not been established, Theresa May would still be prime minister and a second referendum would be on the horizon. I was always aware that a brand new party such as ours, without a local council base, would find it difficult to break through in a general election. Yet my decision to stand down 317 candidates in those seats which the Tories won in 2017 was motivated in part by Johnson saying that he would avoid alignment with the European Union. More than that, I was driven by my desire to stop the Lib Dems in the south and south-west of England. As Jo Swinson has admitted, I succeeded. My decision killed off her campaign and its unforgivably anti-democratic Brexit position.
As for those Labour seats in which our candidates stood, I always predicted that the Brexit Party would take Labour votes, thereby making it easier for the Conservatives. This also turned out to be accurate. Indeed, in many cases, the Labour decline of the vote share was offset by the rise of the Brexit Party vote. A very similar thing happened when I led Ukip in 2015.
Few political commentators in London seemed to accept this as a serious possibility. It is as though they refused to understand that a large section of the population, namely patriotic Old Labour voters who live a long way from the capital, would never vote for the Conservative Party. But they were wrong.
My chief concern now is not whether the UK will get Brexit at the end of January, but what kind of Brexit it will be. There is a clear contradiction between the terms of the withdrawal agreement in what Johnson calls its “oven-ready” form, and the pledge to sign a Canada-style free trade agreement. With their large parliamentary majority, who will hold the government to account on this most fundamental matter?
The truth is that the threat from the Brexit Party, together with the influence of the European Research Group in parliament, has disappeared for the time being. Questions over the future shape of Brexit and Britain’s place in the world are now entirely in the hands of Johnson. With half of his Cabinet having voted Remain, and substantial global pressures on him, it will be tempting for him to pursue the easy option of a soft Brexit.
Donald Trump has tweeted euphorically about his hopes of securing that long-sought trade deal between America and Britain. But this aspiration will only be realised if the UK is tough with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. I do not expect Brussels to make any aspect of Britain leaving the EU easy for our country, and the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement do not commit the EU to giving us anything.
From the word go, Barnier’s aim has always been to prevent Britain from gaining any competitive advantage over our EU neighbours. Politicians in Germany are equally horrified by that prospect. In order to beat the July 1 deadline, by when notice of an extension to the transition period must be requested, Johnson has to be prepared to walk away from the EU altogether. Currently, I consider the likelihood of him doing this to be very small, but I hope to be proved wrong.
Immediately after June 2016, I thought Britain’s membership of the EU had come to an end, that my work was done, and that the result of the referendum would be delivered. I was wrong, so I rejoined the fray. Now, having endured three elections in the last 30 months, let us hope the country can look forward to a prolonged period of political stability and certainty.
Whatever happens over the coming months, I will make sure I am not too far away from the action. The fact is that if Brexit does not “get done”, as Johnson has promised repeatedly over the last six weeks, pressure will have to be reapplied.