Brexit reflections from Kate Hoey

Brexit reflections from Kate Hoey

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 Kate Hoey, who was Labour MP for Vauxhall between 1989 and 2019 and a stalwart of the Labour Leave campaign.

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 voted to come out of the Common Market in the first referendum in June 1975. I never saw any chance of genuine reform over the years as the move towards more majority voting was inevitable and this automatically removed the power of the UK to stop measures not in our interest. As a Home Office Minister in the Blair Government I went to Brussels often for Justice and Home Affairs meetings. That convinced me even more that it was a bureaucratic and top-down anti-democratic body.

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

The elderly couple coming up to me in tears after the Gateshead rally and saying that they were pleased I was there speaking as a Labour MP. They said they felt completely abandoned by Labour.

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?

There was so much that united us on these platforms over leaving the EU that ‘normal’ party differences didn’t matter. Everyone had a different style of speaking and I think anyone who shared in these experiences has a bond with the others. It was a real mix of left and right e.g. George Galloway and Bill Cash. It was always fun to be on the same platform as Tim Martin. But none of us could match Nigel Farage in his oratory and he was always willing to spend a lot of time afterwards talking to people waiting to meet him.

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

Around the Whitehall area and doing media interviews. I was on the BBC with David Dimbleby when David Cameron came out of Downing Street to announce he was standing down. The whole night was very emotional, especially when I rang my Mum at 7am in Northern Ireland. She was thrilled at the result.

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

No. I did not imagine my parliamentary colleagues would fight tooth and nail to stop us leaving and that we would have such a weak Prime Minister who gave in to the EU from the beginning.

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

My Mum said to me just before she died that “they will never let us leave” and until Boris became Prime Minister, she was nearly proved right. Once he was in Downing Street, I knew we would Leave; but there were times during the dreadful parliamentary shenanigans when I despaired and the way John Bercow behaved made me want to scream. But in the end Parliament’s behaviour helped change a lot of people’s attitudes and they saw that democracy itself was threatened.

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?

It already has changed. Labour is finished for the foreseeable future. It will take years for them to gain back trust and if Boris really does concentrate TLC on the Labour Northern heartlands, then we could have a Conservative government for many years. But the people now know that their vote can really change things and that is important.

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?

We need a free trade arrangement and we will only get that by staying firm and not giving in to EU blackmail. Most importantly we must not use fishing as a bargaining tool. I also look forward to the UK being a real force for good internationally and not constricted by EU bureaucracy and red tape. We have to make sure our Civil Service does not try to get away with retaining a lot of the silly rules that annoy so many people. We need common sense and more emphasis on individuals having to take responsibility themselves, rather than everything being done by the state. I want to see the Union flag being flown on all public buildings at all times. Finally, I would like our mainstream media to stop running the country down and start to show some belief in our future outside the EU.

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

Not anything special planned. I will probably want to sleep if I have been up very late!!

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, taken on the boat supporting the fishing flotilla which came to Parliament to support Leaving. Shortly after this photo was taken, I had one taken in the same spot with Nigel Farage and this became the photo that my Lib Dem opponent used in the election the following year. He misjudged the effect. My majority doubled to 20,000!! A wonderful day and my mood of optimism is captured here.