Let’s recall how the idea of Brexit went from taboo to reality in a matter of years

Let’s recall how the idea of Brexit went from taboo to reality in a matter of years

It’s really happening. After all the battles, diversions and setbacks, I almost have to pinch myself to be sure that finally we are going to leave the European Union.

When my watch ticks past 11pm on Friday, I’ll celebrate, of course. But there will also be a lot of people on my mind.

For a start, it will be a moment for all those who stuck their necks out to make the case when it was far from fashionable. I’ll raise a glass in particular for those who fought on when everything was stacked against us, but have sadly not lived to see the day it came true.

Words like “earthquake” and “revolution” might be cliché, but when you consider how recently the idea of leaving the EU was taboo, the magnitude of what Leavers have achieved is thrown into relief.

I remember joining a modest audience in the Ruskin Hotel, Blackpool, during the 2005 Conservative Party Conference to hear Philip Davies (then newly-elected) become the only sitting MP to publicly say that we should leave the EU.

He called the bluff of the powers-that-be, in the same way that Nigel Farage exploded the myth that voters had no interest in anti-EU politics, or that a new party could not top a national ballot. Once Davies had said the unsayable, other parliamentarians soon joined him. The Better Off Out campaign was chosen by Farage as the acid test for UKIP’s non-aggression policy, establishing the principle and prototype for the Brexit Party’s decision to stand aside in hundreds of seats.

Look how far we have come in those 15 years.

The second group in my thoughts on Friday will be the activists who made the 2016 and 2019 victories possible. Everyone who delivered leaflets, knocked on doors, donated what they could spare, cajoled friends and neighbours… the people on whose efforts any campaign rests and who helped to overcome the cash, celebrities and clout which rallied to Remain.

Of course there are the voters themselves, too. The 17.4 million who insisted in 2016 that no, they would not be cowed, scared or bullied, but they would weigh the case and make up their own minds. Until very recently, I thought there could be no greater tribute to the independence of mind of the electorate.

Then came 2019, and it happened again. People insisted on democratic self-government in defiance of all the money expended trying to change their minds, all the lawfare and pick-and-mix ‘constitutional innovation’, all the derision and division to which they were subjected. Was there ever such a glorious display of stubborn principle?

The period between 2016 and 2019 was rough. Theresa May’s litany of failures, and the emboldened campaign to reject the referendum result entirely, threatened to rob us of our victory. Even the most irrepressible optimists had dark moments.

During those turbulent three and a half years, BrexitCentral has been a crucial resource and voice for us all. The commitment, knowledge and clarity of its editors and contributors has helped to sustain the Leave movement through tough times. They take a proud place in the ranks of those who kept a disparate coalition together under intense pressure, and made it possible to Get Brexit Done.

I will be sad to see this site’s story come to an end when it publishes its final post this coming weekend (although I am glad that it will at least briefly outlive the UK’s membership of the EU).

As Matthew Elliott and Jonathan Isaby wrote when announcing the decision, our country is about to embark on a new era: “Once we are formally freed from the shackles of the EU as of 1st February, a new phase of debate begins: about what kind of trade deal we should strike with the EU and how we should use the powers we have reclaimed.”

This site’s work will therefore be complete, but I’m sure that many BrexitCentral readers will be looking for somewhere – a sympathetic, Leave-supporting site – to keep up to date about the way this new era takes shape; to take part in discussion and debate how to use the powers that we regain; and to hold the Government to the promises it gave to the many Leavers who lent the Conservatives their vote in December.

If so, you would all be more than welcome at ConservativeHome – we even have our own free daily email, to satisfy your appetite for a regular dose of all the essential news and analysis of what will very soon be (I’m going to have to pinch myself again) post-Brexit Britain.

I hope you will follow our coverage as we navigate this fascinating period in our nation’s history; after all, you helped to make this new age a reality.