Brexit reflections from Douglas Carswell

Brexit reflections from Douglas Carswell

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 Douglas Carswell, the former Conservative-turned-UKIP MP for Clacton.

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 after reading Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of the Great Powers at university. Kennedy explains how the secret of European success and innovation its absence of unified political authority. It was clear to me that further integration of what was at the time the EEC would be bad for Europe.

I switched from opposing closer European integration to wanting the UK to leave in 1992-93, when I met Dan Hannan in the House of Commons. He persuaded me that the EU could not be reformed. When Tony Blair’s Lisbon Agenda – an attempt at making Europe more dynamic and innovative – failed a few years later, that conviction became an absolute certainty.

By the time I was elected to the Commons in 2005, I was certain not only that the EU was a disaster, but that the UK needed to leave; reform was not a credible expectation – and that the vehicle for doing so was a referendum.

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

Being on the bus with Boris and Gisela! The towns we stopped in were full of enthusiasm. When Boris stepped out the door, they went wild. There was a real sense that people where taking back control of politics from the SW1 crowd.

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?

Our most effective allies were people like Guy Verhofstadt, Tony Blair and the CBI. Every time they pontificated, they helped us with the swing voters we needed to win over.

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

I was in Vote Leave HQ with the team to see the results come it. We were nervous, then hopeful – and then overjoyed. I also felt emotionally drained. It had been a long march, involving elections, by-elections, public exposure, vilification by broadcasters and much vitriol. So it felt a great relief: I never really wanted to be in politics in the first place – I just wanted us to leave the EU.

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

Yes. I am still stunned by the anti-democratic antics of the political classes, the BBC, the Civil Service, Supreme Court, and the clique of mediocrities with which Theresa May surrounded herself. Their efforts to cheat democracy are unworthy of a developed democracy.

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

I feared that the monstrous establishment might just overturn the referendum result. The low point was in December 2018 when two out of every three Tory MPs voted to keep May in office. It was a disastrous choice and the kind of political muppetry that nearly destroyed Brexit.

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?

The post-Brexit antics of the establishment is the game changer. Ordinary folk can see the anti-Brexit elite for what they are – and voters are not going to come to heel ever again. The deference has gone and soon, I hope too, the self-serving elite that presumed our democracy was their choice. I suspect Brexit means the death of the idea that a small technocratic elite can order human social and economic affairs from above for us. The opinion-forming classes are also now very vulnerable. For years, broadcasters portrayed those of us who wanted democratic self-government as xenophobes and bigots. Millions of ordinary folk can now see that it’s the broadcasters are all too often fraud-casters.

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 want Britain to have more liberty – in economic terms, with more free trade and business innovation. Liberty in terms of more competition of ideas – especially ideas to tackle public policy challenges. I would also like more liberty in terms of political discourse. Instead of third-rate career politicians and media pundits, with a only a glib understanding of the world, lording it over us, we need to ensure politics is a competition between the best people and best ideas.

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

I want to spend a quiet time with my family. February 1st is not a time for any gloating or triumphalism. My ten-year-old bought a large jar of Nutella to celebrate Brexit with her own pocket money last year. Again and again we looked forward to opening it last year – and every time we got close, Brexit was postponed. So I suspect I will eat a lot of Nutella on toast for breakfast on February 1st. 

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 and Gisela on the Vote Leave bus.