Brexit reflections from Lord Lilley

Brexit reflections from Lord Lilley

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 former Cabinet Minister Lord Lilley, who was a Conservative MP from 1983 until 2017.

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 always wanted to get back powers we had unnecessarily ceded to the EU – preferably by negotiating the return of powers every time the EU negotiated new treaty changes in which the other member states would need our assent for them to integrate further. When David Cameron found the other member states would not concede any return of competences to the UK, I decided that we had to leave.

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

When at a debate at my local university, the vote swung from 75% pro-Remain before the debate to 55% pro-Leave after hearing the arguments – which of course most students had been sheltered from throughout their education.

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?

Kelvin Hopkins, the then Labour MP for Luton North. We found ourselves sharing platforms at a number of debates and agreed the key issue was democracy. Some people in the audiences who found it difficult to believe that the British people, through their elected representatives, should be able to choose what labour, environmental etc laws should apply in the UK or whether we could nationalise or subsidise our industries – let alone that each of us would accept whatever decision they made, even if it was not what we would prefer.

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

At home in bed, feeling gloomy, assuming that we had lost!

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

I was conscious from the moment the decision was announced that the elites would try to reverse or subvert the decision to Leave and feared that the longer the process was delayed, the weaker the moral force of the democratic decision would have, relative to those anti-democratic forces.

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

Yes. Particularly when Theresa May won the confidence vote as Party Leader, then again when she refused even to seek to renegotiate her Withdrawal Agreement in line with the Brady Amendment. We were faced with the appalling choice between becoming a vassal state or remaining and becoming a province of the EU.

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 suspect the referendum and the 2019 election have crystallised a realignment where values like patriotism and opposition to identity politics become key dividers.

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?

An immigration policy with two objectives: to prioritise training UK people up to needed skills instead of importing cheap skilled labour from abroad; and to ease the housing crisis by restricting the net inflow to nearer a balance instead of importing the population of Southampton every year.

On regulations, a willingness to revise the regulations inherited from the EU – not to reduce standards, but to make them less onerous, easier to comply with and to remove obstacles to new entrants.

And an agricultural policy which gradually phases out production/land subsidies.

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

To sleep off the hangover from the previous night’s celebrations.