Brexit reflections from Andrew Bridgen

Brexit reflections from Andrew Bridgen

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 Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, who led the Vote Leave campaign in the East Midlands.

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.

My first entry into politics was while I was running my own company, getting involved with the Business for Sterling and the “no” campaign to keep the UK out of the of the euro. My Euroscepticism really grew from there. My maiden speech in Parliament in 2010 was in the Europe debate where I said: “I love Europe, but I am not a supporter of economic union”. I had joined the ERG during my first months of being an MP and I was always going to campaign to Leave, never seriously thinking the EU would offer sufficient reforms to persuade me otherwise – but I did worry they might offer enough to win the referendum for Remain. They certainly misjudged the mood of the UK people at that time and they have done so repeatedly, but they are not alone in that since so have many members of the political elite, establishment and media.

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

I remember hearing the news that Boris Johnson had decided to back and campaign for Leave and my heart leaped; I remember thinking for the first time that we were in with a chance and could win this. On eve of poll, Boris visited me and my team in Ashby de la Zouch and on a hot mic I told him that Leave were going to win the referendum, although he didn’t seem that confident. On a walk round Market Street with all the camera crews, he brought the market town to a standstill, even the bus driver stopped and shouted “Boris for Prime Minster”. He had to wait a while, but the electorate are always right.

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 think it would be on radio with George Galloway and in the Commons with Dennis Skinner, both staunch Eurosceptics of the left. I must admit it was a strange feeling to be campaigning with them against David Cameron and George Osborne. After that, despite our obvious political differences on most matters, I always had a certain respect for the two left-wingers. I am not sure I could say the same about some of my so-called Conservative colleagues.

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

First I was at the count at Coalville in my constituency until about midnight. The count had not completed, but it was clear that Leave had at least 60% of the vote, and I headed off to London in my car, with the radio on listening to the results being announced. I knew we had won after the Newcastle and Middlesbrough results and what I had seen at my own count. I arrived in Westminster about 3.30am and started on the media round; by the time it was officially announced that Leave had won, the sun was up on Abingdon Green and I remember all the smiling eurosceptic MPs. I was feeling very happy, proud and suddenly very tired as the result sank in and the adrenaline I had been running on for days started to fade.

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

No. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum result, everyone said that “we have to accept the democratic result” – but that didn’t last very long. What followed was a desperate three-and-a-half year battle for the heart and soul of the Conservative Party and the future of our country and our democracy. In many ways it was harder than the referendum and even more divisive, culminating in the General Election in 2019 I had predicted – but thank goodness once again, as at the 2016 referendum, the electorate got it right.

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

There were many dark days, the worst probably being Theresa May’s Chequers proposals. I knew from December 2017 that we would never get a meaningful Brexit through in that Parliament and a new leader and general election would be needed.

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?

Brexit was a game changer and because those who were on the losing side – especially the Labour Party, Lib Dems and the BBC – have all failed to learn from their experience, the ripples will continue to be felt and the paradigm has shifted.

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?

Parallel Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the EU and USA, to create the competitive atmosphere which makes a good deal with both of them much more likely and the deadline for sealing the deals by 31st December eminently achievable.

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

I am campaigning with many others to get Big Ben to chime at 11pm on 31st January to mark our departure and if, as I hope, we are successful, I intend to celebrate in Parliament Square that evening. On the 1st I want to be back in my constituency with the people who put me in Parliament and who overwhelmingly voted to Leave the EU.

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 Boris Johnson the day before the referendum.