UKIP’s key challenge now is to make Remain-supporting Labour MPs embrace the will of the people

UKIP’s key challenge now is to make Remain-supporting Labour MPs embrace the will of the people

I try to make sure the pieces I write for BrexitCentral are as non-partisan as possible when it comes to dishing out bouquets and brickbats across the different political parties to which we Brexiteers belong. The origins of the site as a clearing house for news and ideas that can be fruitfully shared among all strands of Brexit supporters as we pursue our common goal guide me in this non-tribal approach within this particular neck of cyberspace.

So I will not go out of my way to rubbish Theresa May’s big set piece speech on exiting the EU. Neither will I seek to claim that it was confused or light on content or a waffle-fest or overly opaque – on the whole it was none of those things. My first reaction upon hearing it was to reflect how far we who believe in Britain’s future outside the EU have come in a relatively short space of time. Here was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom setting out some very clear positions. Britain will be leaving the single market, breaking free from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, taking full control of its immigration policy and removing itself from the key constraining characteristics of the Customs Union too.

And, crucially, she made clear she was prepared to walk away with no deal and trade instead on WTO terms should the EU seek to enforce punitive departure terms. The UK will not continue to pay “vast” or “huge” sums annually after we have left the EU, said Mrs May. This worryingly vague formulation was helpfully made more specific by David Davis the next day when he confirmed any payments would be below £350 million.

This is not to say that I found the speech immune to criticism. Far from it. For instance, I shared the deep disappointment of most of my UKIP colleagues that there was no specific mention of the interests of our fishing communities. We suspect that the Conservative Government may be tempted to barter away the UK’s right to restore its full, exclusive maritime economic zone in return for what it might consider a flashier bauble elsewhere in the negotiation. If that is indeed being ruminated upon in the corridors of power, then ministers should know that we in UKIP will be fighting very hard and very noisily on behalf of those coastal communities whose livelihood was turned into a common European resource at the whim of Edward Heath in the early 1970s.

An even bigger concern kicked in towards the end of the speech when Mrs May started talking about “phased implementation” and as yet unspecified “interim measures”, with no final deadline set for being entirely disentangled from the EU. Had Sir Humphrey got hold of the last ten paragraphs and layered them with Whitehall jargon intended to facilitate the permanent filing away of the Brexit project in a bottom drawer somewhere, I wondered? If so, then I suspect Sir Humphrey will find he has massively over-reached himself.

David Davis did confirm in a radio interview the following day that the interim period could still be in progress at the time of the next general election. If that turns out to be the case, then do not expect an acquiescent UKIP response because you will not get one. There is no good reason for Brexit not to be done and dusted by then. Be clear that UKIP will live up to its role as the guard dog of Brexit. We will seek to snap at the heels of the May administration to ensure it quickens its pace. We will seek to worry the Remain sheep on the Tory benches too by being a credible electoral threat in their constituencies.

But most of all, we know our imminent challenge is to make Labour MPs – who overwhelmingly campaigned for Remain – understand that they should now embrace the will of the people. If UKIP can win the forthcoming by-election in Stoke-On-Trent Central then I think it will be pretty close to game, set and match for Leave.

Suddenly scores of Labour MPs in industrial and post-industrial seats will know that resistance and obstruction of Brexit is only appropriate for those whose Remain fanaticism eclipses their instinct for electoral self-preservation. I do not think it unduly tribal to observe that Labour is being profoundly dishonest on Brexit by pretending that continued membership of the single market is compatible with implementing new controls on EU immigration or indeed of being a sovereign democratic nation in general. That was the tenor of is response to Mrs May’s speech, with Labour figures lambasting her for preparing to take the UK out of the single market while simultaneously claiming to support the ending of free movement.

I understand why Labour is attempting to get away with this con trick – though it is doomed to fail. In the referendum, Labour voters split roughly 65-35 for Remain. And it is Labour’s misfortune that a significant tranche of the 65 appears ardent for Remain while most of the 35 is equally ardent for Leave – after all, it had to be to go against the party’s Remain campaigning in the first place.

Some of the middle class Left is therefore attracted by the Lib Dems and their out and out Brexit denial, while much of the 35 per cent – concentrated in working class places like Stoke – sees Labour’s prevarication on Brexit as the final straw in an already strained relationship with the party and is open to voting UKIP or in particular places Tory. Indeed, some of it has already switched. And Labour is not in the kind of political shape that would allow it to willingly sacrifice any significant element within its support in order to acquire greater coherence. It desperately needs higher poll ratings, not lower ones, even to cling on as the main party of opposition let alone as a potential party of government.

So one of the key tasks facing UKIP now is to make sure we offer as appetising a home for those blue collar Leave voters brought up to identify as Labourites as the Lib Dems do to the middle class Leftists for whom EU membership has somehow and very weirdly become a totem for forward-thinking and general virtue.

To put it bluntly: If we can win in Stoke then Labour MPs across Yorkshire, the North West, the North East and much of the Midlands will have to be stood down from the Remain rearguard action and Labour’s stance in general will have to become far more Leave-friendly. The Labour high command will in effect have become a prisoner of the Brexit movement. Whether you are a Tory leaver, a ‘Kipper or one of those hardy Labour Leave people to whom we all owe such a debt of gratitude, that has got to be an enticing prospect.