What next for the Brexit Party?

What next for the Brexit Party?

The question I was most asked over the Christmas holiday was what next for The Brexit Party? After all, Santa has given us pretty much everything we asked for. We are leaving the EU, there will be no extension beyond the end of 2020, No Deal is firmly back on the table. The new Government has adopted most of our election policies, including a points-based migration system, investing in our hard-pressed regions and reducing business rates. Revoke and Remain are as dead as Corbynism. Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Sir John Major and Ken Clarke have all described the Conservatives as the Brexit Party in all but name. It’s an unprecedented outcome for a political party created just nine months ago.

But after the euphoria of the European elections, the past few weeks have also brutally exposed the weaknesses of the Brexit Party. We went into the general election campaign with high hopes, decent poll figures, candidates in every constituency and 28 MEPs. We had a distinctive ‘Clean Break’ offer and a progressive policy portfolio. Six weeks later we emerged bloodied and bruised with no MPs, mixed messages about Boris’s deal, legions of unhappy supporters left high and dry and down to 23 MEPs, with five colleagues turning their backs on us due to the party’s campaign. Our top-down business way of doing things even blew an ‘oven-ready’ deal with the Conservatives that could have secured a couple of Brexit Party MPs and a greater Leave victory.

So while Nigel Farage and Richard Tice are ‘assessing thoughts and ideas as to what our next steps may be’, here’s a few thoughts of my own.

The fat lady hasn’t sung quite yet on our membership of the European Union. We’re back for one more month at the European Parliament, with Boris’s Withdrawal Agreement scheduled to face its final hurdle in Brussels at the end of January. The 73 British MEPs represent nearly 10% of the European Parliament, so our votes count. I’m certain the Agreement will be ratified, but it will be interesting to see if British Labour, Lib Dem and Green MEPs have finally grasped the democratic imperative of seeing the 2016 referendum result delivered.

Beyond that, only two things are going to matter in 2020. The first is the very challenging negotiation with the EU about our future relationship. The Withdrawal Agreement and its attached Political Declaration are about much more than trade. They impact on citizens’ rights, money, foreign policy, security, fishing waters, the environment, trade agreements with other nations – in fact every aspect of our lives.

The second is to develop and realise a compelling, optimistic vision of post-Brexit Britain. So far, that’s only been sketched out in language of adversity with the EU. For example, ‘take back control’. Boris may want to call time on the Leave/Remain debate, but it will only happen if we use our regained sovereignty to put the ‘Great’ back into the whole of Britain. It’s absolutely key to holding the Union together.

The voices of the Brexit Party, with their powerful blend of left and right, have a constructive role to play in keeping the Government true to its word and aspirational for the nation’s future. Votes have been lent and hopes are high. With Labour and the Lib Dems embroiled in their own internal machinations, the Brexit Party is ideally placed to lead the commentary on Brexit negotiations. I know how strongly some of my MEP colleagues feel about fishing and finance in particular, so expect real impact in those areas.

But if the past four years have been among the most tumultuous in Westminster, the size of the Government’s majority means the new administration is set to be the most stable. Our political system is in desperate need of change, but this issue alone will not sustain a new national ‘Reform Party’. And certainly not one without any elected representatives or a bottomless bank account. Threats of a new Reform Party will remain just that, pending an injection of cash, commitment to a genuine party structure, grassroots organisation and a local council election campaign.

In any event, I don’t expect the two major political parties to make the same mistake as their predecessors. The road ahead will be full of danger for left and right, fertile ground for stone-chuckers like the Brexit Party. It would be far smarter for the Conservatives and Labour to seduce their once former supporters back to the fold. As the Government looks for fresh talent and capacity to deliver its new sovereign responsibilities, some will find their way onto Team Boris. And if Labour is serious about power, then it will need left-leaning Brexiteers to help create its own positive vision for Britain outside of the EU. Some Brexit MEPs will continue with their personal agendas, like June Mummery campaigning for fishing and coastal communities. Some will provide an informed view on negotiations with the EU and Britain’s new place in the world.

And what about Nigel Farage, the most influential voice in British politics this century? Never say never, but I suspect that after 25 years leading the fight for Brexit, more than anyone he wants Boris to live up to his promises. I believe the Prime Minister will, so after one more barnstorming Farage speech to the European Parliament later this month and a celebratory knees-up in Parliament Square, it will be back to his radio show and that very special relationship he has in America.