Now That’s What I Call Brexit: Our Greatest Hits in 2018

Now That’s What I Call Brexit: Our Greatest Hits in 2018

It’s been an incredibly busy year here for me and the team at BrexitCentral. Day in, day out, we have sought to provide our loyal readers with a one-stop shop for news, views, comment and analysis about all the latest Brexit developments, both pulling together a summary of the news from a wide variety of external sources and hosting original articles by politicians, businesspeople, academics, lawyers, economists, campaigners and many others besides.

So as Matthew Elliott, I and the rest of the team thank you for your support and wish you a Merry Christmas, I have sought to review the year through a small selection of the hundreds of articles we have published, with apologies to the many whose work space has not allowed me to highlight.

If anything, the review below demonstrates that many of the arguments currently taking place – about a second referendum, how to deal with Irish border, possible participation in a customs union and the question of a no-deal Brexit – have been ongoing throughout the last twelve months and are therefore remarkably familiar. Many of the pieces we have published therefore clearly stand the test of time and the arguments previously made remain as valid as when they were first written. So I hope our ‘greatest hits’ of 2018 will continue to be of use and relevance as we enter 2019…


The year began rather as it would end, with former Prime Minister Tony Blair putting his oar in, doing his best to scupper Brexit and calling on the country to “re-think” its decision of 2016. Labour MP Kate Hoey was swift out of the traps to call on him to bin his latest Dodgy Dossier, while East of England MEP Patrick O’Flynn declared Blair’s attempts to derail the referendum result as contemptible. Following a reshuffle in which European Research Group Chairman Suella Fernandes (as Suella Braverman then was, prior to her marriage in the spring) was appointed a minister at the Department for Exiting the European Union, Jacob Rees-Mogg was elected the new Chairman of the ERG, a position from which his influence would be felt throughout the year. And in an important staging post on the road to Brexit, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill secured its Third Reading in the Commons by a majority of 29.


The latest ruse of those still in denial of the referendum result became to call for the UK to remain in the EU’s Customs Union after Brexit. Lawyers for Britain Chairman Martin Howe QC explained why remaining in the EU Customs Union after Brexit would be a political and economic disaster, while I sought to call a halt on the Remainer revisionism and explain that we did vote to Leave the EU’s Customs Union at the referendum. Jeremy Corbyn was evidently not paying attention, since he proceeded to announce a new Labour policy of remaining in a customs union with the EU – an idea that was slated by Professor David Paton of Economists for free Trade as “bizarre” and by international trade expert Shanker Singham as “a non-starter”. The issue of the Irish border began to come to the fore with Hugh Bennett explaining that it was time to stop doom-mongering over it because the solutions are already out there to deal with it, while the DUP’s Director of Policy and a Vote Leave veteran, Lee Reynolds, made the case that Remainers are insulting Northern Ireland to caricature it as forever standing on the precipice of violence. Nobel Peace Prize winner and former First Minister of Northern Ireland Lord Trimble spoke to us to explain why it was “rubbish” to suggest that Brexit will undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Meanwhile, former Cabinet minster John Redwood posed the question: Do we really need a Transition period?


March saw Theresa May deliver her third big Brexit speech (following Lancaster House and Florence) at London’s Mansion House (it had been due to take place in the North East of England, but bad weather scuppered that plan). You can watch it again here. And by way of a reminder that the Prime Minister still enjoyed broad support from the wider Brexit movement at that juncture, her Mansion House speech was welcomed by John Longworth of Leave Means Leave as a defining moment on the path to successfully delivering Brexit. In what in retrospect seems remarkably prescient, former Brexit Minister David Jones explained for us why the Government needs to spend money on post-Brexit preparations, deal or no deal. And prior to her joining the BrexitCentral team later in the year, Drusilla Summers wrote that EU bullying and Blair’s ‘Project Patronise’ reaffirm why so many of us voted for Brexit in the first place.


On the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds explained why Northern Ireland must accept the mandate for Brexit and respond accordingly, while Hugh Bennett accused the EU of cynically exploiting the Irish border to try to keep Britain under the thumb. Amidst continued attempts by some to push for continued British membership of the Customs Union, former Cabinet Minister Priti Patel set ouwhy we need out of the protectionist racket that is the EU’s Customs Union. And as the latest lunatic theory to be propagated by Lord Adonis claimed that the BBC was responsible for creating Nigel Farage, I set out how Nigel Farage was actually created by Tony Blair.


In a sign that support among the wider Leave movement for the Government’s Brexit strategy was beginning to fracture, the Government’s proposal for a “New Customs Partnership” with the EU post-Brexit was hardly met with universal acclaim. Tory MP and International Trade Select Committee Member Marcus Fysh branded it “a non-starter”, while Henry Newman of Open Europe described the proposal as “bad politics, bad policy and a bad plan”. In another arguably prescient intervention, John Longworth proceeded to conclude that a no-deal Brexit with UK-EU trade on WTO terms is the best hope for Brexiteers. Over in the US, Ted Bromund of the Heritage Foundation welcomed the launch of the US Senate’s UK Trade Caucus as demonstrating American hopes for Brexit Britain. And back in Westminster, the House of Lords inflicted 14 defeats on the Government during Report Stage of the EU Withdrawal Bill.


The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was passed into law, repealing the European Communities Act 1972 which took us into the then European Economic Community in the first place and setting in stone 29th March 2019 as the date on which we leave the EU. Theresa May welcomed the news in her speech at the Policy Exchange summer party – an extract of which I recorded for posterity here. Economists for Free Trade Chairman Professor Patrick Minford was the latest to set out why a WTO-based exit from the EU is best for the UK and we exclusively published the text of Jacob Rees-Mogg‘s Speaker’s Lecture offering his vision for a global-facing, outward-looking post-Brexit Britain. Former Labour MP Robert Flello set out for us why Labour must stop telling its Leave-backing voters they got it wrong on Brexit, while David Scullion unmasked a senior EU diplomat as a Remainer Twitter troll.


July was all about Chequers – the Brexit vision agreed by the Cabinet at the Prime Minister’s Buckinghamshire residence. Except not all of the Government felt able to back it. First to resign was Brexit Secretary himself, David Davis (who was replaced by Dominic Raab and spoke in the Commons about his reasons for resigning here), along with junior Brexit minister Steve Baker (whose Commons speech explaining his resignation can be viewed here). Then followed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and a clutch of other junior figures. Despite the efforts of Theresa May to sell her proposal to Tory MPs, many were left unconvinced. Tory Deputy Chairman James Cleverly valiantly insisted that it was a “workable plan”, but a string of his colleagues – such as Andrea Jenkyns, Marcus Fysh, Robert Courts and Ross Thomson – wrote for us explaining why they disagreed.  Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans explained how he had been driven from content with the Chequers plan to extremely concerned in a matter of days. Hugh Bennett described the White Paper as an exercise in giving away control, while Martin Howe QC explained how the Chequers plan would still leave UK judges subservient to the ECJ. Away from Chequers, Christopher Howarth explained why Leo Varadkar’s weaponisation of the Irish border threatens the EU-UK trade deal he needs more than anyone and Professor David Collins sought to bust the Remain-inspired myths about trade on WTO terms. And as ex-Labour MP Austin Mitchell observed how odd it is that those who refuse to accept the 2016 referendum result now want another one and I pointed out on Sky News that the people calling for a second referendum are the same people who didn’t like the first result, former International Trade Minister Greg Hands set out the searching questions the EU27 are failing to ask themselves in the wake of Brexit.


August was mercifully quieter, although there was something of a summer spike in traffic to the site when we got our hands on the explosive “chuck Chequers” letter Jacob Rees-Mogg had sent out to local Conservative associations to turn the Tory grassroots against Theresa May’s plan. Martin Howe QC explained for us why leaving the EU on WTO terms will pull down the barriers to world trade and cut prices for consumers. And Patrick O’Flynn had the Treasury in his sights when he argued that we’ve needed a committed Brexiteer as Chancellor all along.


In an important contribution to ongoing debates, the European Research Group published its guide to keeping the Irish border invisible post-Brexit while thirty years to the day after the speech was delivered, Conor Burns set out why Margaret Thatcher‘s prophetic Bruges speech sparked the debate that led to Brexit. Talking of speeches, Jean-Claude Juncker‘s latest federalising State of the Union speech provided Patrick O’Flynn with another reminder of why we need out of the EU. As the party conference season got underway, Labour delegates in Liverpool managed to pass an ‘all things to all people’ motion on Brexit which kept all options on the table, including the prospect of backing a second referendum. Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis declared that Labour’s promises to respect the referendum result now lie in tatters, while Labour Leave’s Brendan Chilton lamented the damage being done to his party’s brand by all those talking of a second referendum and Global Britain’s Brian Monteith reported on new polling showing that blocking Brexit or backing another referendum would cost Labour at the polls.


The party conference season continued with the Conservatives in Manchester, where BrexitCentral’s Conference Rally attracted a massive crowd, many of whom sadly weren’t able to get into the venue. However the entire event can still be viewed on YouTube, although those preferring to pick and choose can watch the individual speeches from Daniel Hannan MEPRoss Thomson MPAndrea Jenkyns MP, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, our former BrexitCentral colleague Darren GrimesPriti Patel MP, Conor Burns MP and Jacob Rees-Mogg MP. It was also that week that we published Project Cheer 3: Even more reasons to be upbeat about Brexit, the latest in our series of popular booklets presenting some pertinent facts in a handy format, in this instance designed by Liam Vernon. As debate continued about the Government’s proposals, former Cabinet Minister Lord Lilley explained for us what he described as the deceit at the heart of Chequers, while former Europe Minister David Heathcoat-Amory declared that the Government has ignored the basic principles of successful negotiation in its dealings with Brussels. Former Vote Leave Chair Gisela Stuart warned against walking into the trap of an extended transition period as another Vote Leave veteran, Iain Duncan Smith, said that the car industry’s prophecies of doom must not be allowed to prevent Brexit. And as Professor Matthew Goodwin explained why the Remainers’ caricature of Leave voters is wrong and shows they still fail to understand why people backed Brexit, one BrexitCentral-reading Remain voter, Chloe Schendel-Wilson, set out for us how she went from being a devout Remainer in 2016 to now being enthused by the opportunities of Brexit. Meanwhile, another European Council meeting came and went without a deal being done.


Before the deal was even done came yet another Government resignation as Jo Johnson quit as a Transport Minister over the likely deal to be struck that would “leave us trapped in a subordinate relationship to the EU with no say over the rules that will govern huge swathes of our economy”. And once the deal was struck, another raft of resignations followed, led by Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, along with Work and Pension Secretary Esther McVey, Brexit Minister Suella Braverman, Northern Ireland Minister Shailesh Vara and a clutch of ministerial aides. Dr Lee Rotherham found some nasty surprises in the smallprint of the Brexit deal for us while Victoria Hewson found that the Irish protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement rules out an independent trade policy and Martin Howe QC set out why that protocol is neither a “backstop” nor temporaryGisela Stuart concluded that Theresa May’s Brexit deal does not deliver what people voted for at the referendum as Jacob Rees-Mogg urged fellow MPs to oppose the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the ERG published its own case against the Government’s Brexit deal. And as some continued to insist that the vote to Leave was merely about a desire to control our borders, Holly Whitbread noted for us that the opposition to Theresa May’s deal proves that Brexit was about far more than controlling immigration. Former Irish Ambassador Ray Bassett explained for us why the Irish Government’s hardline attitude to Brexit is endangering the Good Friday Agreement and Berwick-upon-Tweed MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan set out how trade with the EU on WTO terms would be better than being a Brussels rule-taker, while fellow Northumberland resident Matt Ridley wrote how Sir James Dyson’s five-year legal battle reveals the crony capitalist corruption at the heart of the EU. And as David Davis urged us to stand firm in the face of the onslaught of Project Fear propaganda, his former Chief of Staff, Stewart Jackson, explained why Parliament cannot simply ‘block No Deal’ as some are claiming – because it’s the default option.


These last few weeks have seen three days of the big Commons debate on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, only for the Government – anticipating defeat – to pull the rest of the debate and vote until January, after which May survived a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party. We published a leaked House of Commons legal analysis of the Brexit deal which vindicates Donald Trump, contradicts Theresa May and adds to Brexiteers’ concerns as former Cabinet Minister Theresa Villiers wrote for us that without a major rewrite Theresa May’s Brexit deal will remain unacceptable. John Redwood suggested that those scare-mongering about trading with the EU on WTO terms misunderstand how modern factories work – a view backed up by two exporters writing for us, Simon Boyd and Alastair MacMillan. Marcus Gibson added that the UK’s unnoticed export boom underlines why a no-deal Brexit is nothing to fear, while another businessman writing for us pleaded with the Prime Minister to stop the scare stories and embrace a Sovereign Brexit. Finally, Shanker Singham set out how to solve the Irish border issue and make the Withdrawal Agreement acceptable.