Brexit reflections from Mark Francois

Brexit reflections from Mark Francois

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 Mark Francois, who is Deputy Chairman of the European Research Group.

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 made my maiden speech in the House of Commons on 4th July 2001, against the Treaty of Nice and the growing power of the European Union over our national life. However, my epiphany really came during my tenure as the Shadow Europe Minister when we were debating the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, which I previously wrote about here for BrexitCentral. I spent months preparing for those debates and then spent 14 nights debating the minutiae of the Treaty in the House of Commons, only to discover that we literally couldn’t change so much as a punctuation mark anywhere within it. At the conclusion of that process, I went home and thought to myself: “This is absolute madness, we have got to get out of this. We no longer run our own country”. So from that point onwards, I had decided that the only way forward was to leave the European Union and take back control of our national destiny, because Parliament had effectively been reduced to the status of a rubber stamp.

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

I think it would have to be when the Sunderland result was declared, because at that point, it became obvious that Britain had indeed voted to leave the European Union.

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?

Whilst campaigning for Vote Leave in my constituency, I ended up working in a coalition of Conservatives, UKIP supporters and Independents, some of whom had been fierce opponents of Conservatives in local elections. However, we all had a common aim and we managed to put any differences aside successfully for the greater good.

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

I was at the Count at Clements Hall Leisure Centre in Hawkwell and, eventually, my constituency voted to leave the EU by 67% to 33% – one of the largest Leave votes in the country. It felt bloody marvellous!

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

No. Perhaps naively I underestimated the degree of resistance within the British Establishment to leaving the European Union and the sheer lengths that people in the upper echelons of the Civil Service and many Remain MPs in Parliament would go to in order to try and keep us in the EU at almost any cost. Ironically, whilst so many Remainers campaigned remorselessly for a ‘Peoples Vote’, that is in effect what we had at the 2019 General Election – which gave an emphatic answer to the question of whether we should honour the original referendum result of 2016 and Leave.

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 do admit to having some long nights of the soul, particularly during early 2019, when we went through the so-called Meaningful Votes 1, 2 and 3. It is one thing to fight your opponents in politics, but it’s another thing entirely to fight your friends. Nevertheless, had the ERG not opposed Theresa May’s original Withdrawal Agreement, she would still be Prime Minister, we would now be in a customs union and, in effect, trapped within the European Union forever. Therefore, I hope and believe that the ERG and the so called ‘Spartans’ will be vindicated, when the serious history of all this is written, some years hence.

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 marks a fundamental change in politics in this country, because at last we will have taken back control of our national destiny. However, with this comes a responsibility. Now that we will govern ourselves again, we have only ourselves to blame for our mistakes. We will no longer be able to blame ‘Brussels’ for things we do not like and now that we are running our own country, we will have to fully accept the responsibility that comes with it. This is a challenge that I relish.

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?

My vision could perhaps be best described as ‘Global Britain’ with the United Kingdom playing a role as a powerful country on the world stage – a strong ally to many, but beholden to none.

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

Yes. I intend to go to one party or another on 31st January and hopefully watch Big Ben chime our freedom (if the House of Commons authorities decide accordingly – something which I am actively campaigning for at present). I then aim to stay up all night and watch the sun rise on a free country.

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 when I, along with several other Essex MPs, confirmed our intention to campaign for Vote Leave during the 2016 EU Referendum.