Brexit reflections from Andrew Allison

Brexit reflections from Andrew Allison

Here is the latest in our series reflecting on the Brexit process with regular BrexitCentral authors and others who have played an important role in our journey out of the European Union. Here are the answers to our questions from Andrew Allison, who was Head of Campaigns for The Freedom Association between 2014 and 2019 and will return there next month after his spell as Head of Office for Brian Monteith MEP comes to an end.

BC: When did you first come to the view that the UK would be better off out of the EU? Did you ever think that the EU could be reformed from within to make membership tolerable for the UK? Tell us how your views developed over time on the issue.

I became a Eurosceptic in the 1990s when I was in my early twenties. I voted for the Referendum Party in 1997, so it was a natural progression for me to adopt the position that we would be better off out of the EU. I think I came to that viewpoint more or less at the same time as The Freedom Association launched its ‘Better Off Out’ campaign in 2006, and I have publicly argued for us to leave the EU ever since.

BC: What was your most memorable moment during the referendum campaign?

So many of them. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of a tag team with Kate Hoey in a referendum debate in Melton Mowbray. I was responsible for ensuring Hull was blanketed with ‘Labour Leave’ literature during the referendum campaign. The city’s MPs couldn’t work out how local activists had managed to get hold of the leaflets. I had great pleasure telling one of them that it was me!

But the most memorable moment for me was a campaign day in Beverley, East Yorkshire, about a week and a half before the referendum. We turned up with boxes of corex boards, leaflets (Vote Leave, Labour Leave, Grassroots Out, and Leave.EU) and other assorted goodies, and the response from the public was so great we almost ran out of everything. The ‘Stronger In’ stall, by contrast, had hardly anyone visiting it. To attract more people to our stall, one of the activists brought along his parrot for the day. That parrot worked all day posing with dozens of people. We got the job done and had enormous fun at the same time. Exactly how campaigning should be.

BC: Who was the most unlikely ally you campaigned with or shared a platform with during the referendum? Did you strike up any unexpected new friendships across traditional political divides?

I had met Brendan Chilton from Labour Leave when I was covering the Labour Party Conference in Brighton in 2015. We worked closely together during the campaign and we remain good friends today. I shared a platform with Tony Mulhearn, who was one of Derek Hatton’s lieutenants in Liverpool. At one point during a debate at Liverpool Hope University, he declared that he wanted to leave the EU to create a “Socialist United States of Europe”. As he was getting a largely Remain audience to come over to our side, I decided not to challenge him! I met so many people from the left who had to put aside their political differences with people like me from the libertarian right, and they did so with humour, good manners and good grace. I would love to meet up with them again.

BC: Where were you on referendum night? How did it feel?

My wife gave birth to our son on 19th June 2016 – just four days before the referendum, so instead of being in London, I was at home in East Yorkshire. I was asked by Rupert Matthews to act as the local agent for Grassroots Out and I was at a local count in Beverley. I remember vividly driving the short journey home. It was just after 4am and the sky was already blue. I returned home and ran upstairs to tell my wife that it was starting to look like we had won. She replied that she was pleased, and then said: “Take Dominic, I need some sleep!” I took my then five-day-old son downstairs with me and eventually got him to sleep. When David Dimbleby announced that Leave had won, I imagine there was much cheering around the country – even the odd Champagne cork popping – but I had just got my son to sleep and had to remain silent. I looked at him, with tears in my eyes, and said: “This is for you”. It wasn’t what I had planned, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

BC: Did you think then that it would take as long as it has for Brexit to actually happen?

No. I don’t think any of us did. We fought the establishment and won in 2016, but we all underestimated how much the establishment would fight against the referendum result.

BC: Were there any moments in these last few years since the referendum when you thought the prize could yet be snatched from us?

Not really. The referendum in 2016 was the largest plebiscite in our great country’s history. You can’t just put that to one side and ignore it, and the result of the General Election has proved that if you try to thwart the democratically expressed wishes of the electorate, there will be a day of reckoning.

BC: Do you think the British electoral landscape will return to type once Brexit has been delivered? Or will Brexit have caused a lasting change to the political map of Britain?

Politics has changed. The people in the North East who for the first time in their lives voted Conservative, did so because they want change. Boris Johnson has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shake politics up. Margaret Thatcher achieved so much with her thumping Commons majorities. Tony Blair squandered his mandates. I don’t think that Boris is going to be like Blair.

BC: What changes do you want/hope to see made now that the UK has taken back control? Can you summarise your vision for Brexit Britain?

I am looking forward to us taking back control of our laws and our borders – not that I am anti-immigration, far from it. I just believe that we should be in control, just like any other free nation in the world. We must welcome businesses and entrepreneurs to our country. Corporation Tax should be cut, tax incentives should be offered to businesses which want to relocate to places like the North East of England. We need a number of Freeports around the country, particularly on the Tees and the Humber. We need to take back control of our fishing waters and build up our fleet. Farmers who I speak to want British meat to be the best in the world; they don’t want a race to the bottom. Signing new trade deals with other countries and blocs gives our farmers new opportunities in new markets. For Brexit to work and be the golden opportunity it should be, we have to graft. I am confident that we will and I also think that Boris Johnson knows what needs to be done.

BC: Do you have any special plans for 1st February, our first day outside the EU?

I will be returning from Brussels with my wife and son on 31st January. I am tempted to be within earshot of Big Ben at 11pm, but I don’t think I will be. On Saturday 1st February I plan to meet up with those I campaigned with locally in East Yorkshire for a damned good lunch.

BC: Do you have a favourite photo of yourself from the Brexit process? If so, please share it and give us the context for it.

As above, with the parrot I referred to earlier. His name is Bobby.