Brexit reflections from Darren Grimes

Brexit reflections from Darren Grimes

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 Darren Grimes, who ran the BeLeave campaign during the EU referendum and was Deputy Editor of BrexitCentral between 2016 and 2018.

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 political awakening came around 2014, I was a Liberal Democrat participating in the BBC’s Generation 2015 programme, arguing in the run up to the 2015 General Election for another coalition government and for power to be devolved as close to the individual as possible. Like most of my generation, the question of the EU hadn’t been something I had really considered before. But the more I looked into it, the more I realised devolution as close to the individual was precluded by our EU membership – how can you devolve power whilst handing more and more of the United Kingdom’s decision-making powers over to a remote and unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels? The Liberal Democrats elevated support for a flawed institution (the EU) into an article of faith and the more apparent this became, the more obvious it was I had to leave the party and campaign to leave the EU. After Norman Lamb lost the Lib Dem leadership (a campaign on which I worked), I set up BeLeave, a campaign to leave the EU.

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

Introducing Boris Johnson to a rally in Newcastle. It was a room packed out with hundreds of people. I’d no idea what the reaction would be; up until then I’d been quite quiet about my conservatism, coming from County Durham, which back then was about as red as red can be. I was terrified, what would happen? Would there be protests? Would people boo? No, no. Boris, that blonde bundle of optimism, received a standing ovation from that crowd of Geordies – finally, someone was speaking to them… we all know what then happened in 2019.

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?

Jenny Jones, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, the Green peer. She actually took me into the House of Lords to sit in the gallery so I could watch the Article 50 debate, it was very special. BeLeave used clips of her discussing how EU lobbying and corporatism had led to the diesel scandal and the pushing of it.

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

I was at the BBC’s studios and they kept pushing back my slot with Emily Maitlis. I hadn’t been interviewed by anyone quite as high-profile as Emily before, so I was terrified! This was made significantly worse by the fact that I hadn’t slept for days, and had spent the previous 24 hours in Dover helping to Get Out The Vote whilst managing BeLeave. I had to pinch myself on air to keep myself awake. It was whilst I was sat in the green room, watching the likes of Alastair Campbell and Alex Salmond plot and scheme as the results came in that I should have realised what we were in for.

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

I was very naive, I had no idea that the British establishment would try and do everything to stop it. I knew it would happen a few days after the referendum. I did a Channel 4 debate in which Sarah Morrison, former Vice Chair of the Conservative Party under Ted Heath, a Conservative candidate and another Remain campaigner ganged up on me. They said I was “unintelligent” and “uneducated” and that I would “regret my decision”. For me it precipitated the attempted coup against the decision of the people and of course you saw that in extremis in the way in which the Electoral Commission and those with vast coffers and legal connections came after me.

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

It was make or break for Brexit in December last year: had Boris not won a majority, Brexit would have been lost to the Establishment stitch-up working so hard to undo it. Fortunately, County Durham and the rest of working Britain saw to them.

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?

I think Brexit was a catalyst for speeding up the political realignment that has taken place in British politics. For far too long the Labour Party had taken voters like my family, in communities like County Durham, for granted. They had relied on their votes whilst championing the out-of-touch politics of London’s coffee houses over the concerns and views of their traditional heartlands. Brexit exposed that disconnect between Parliament and the people. In 2019 we all decided we’d had quite enough of that.

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 would like to see more of a focus away from London and the South East. Boris Johnson must deliver on his promises made to communities that have put their trust in him for the first time. I would also like to see the UK move away from being so focused on one-continent of the Earth, as Labour leader Clement Attlee once said: “Britain, you see, is something more than a European country.”

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

Like most of the 17.4 million who have waited so long for this to happen, who have been told they’re thick, ignorant and racist and that their vote should be ignored – I’ll be nursing quite the hangover, I imagine!

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, winning my court case after three years, three investigations, the third only brought about after the Electoral Commission caved to pressure from Jolyon Maugham QC and his vast coffers. Some have said that that court case symbolised the start of the fightback for Brexit, finally to be secured in December of 2019 after Boris secured his majority.