Three weeks ago, I spoke at a public meeting to around a thousand people in Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre.
I’ve spoken alongside Nigel Farage many times before around the country, but what has been truly inspirational recently is the way that campaigners for Brexit, spanning all political divides, have been able to come together. Brendan Chilton, secretary of Labour Leave, agreed to speak as Kate Hoey MP was unavailable – and he wowed the audience. There were Conservatives, Trade Unionists and an even more politically varied audience. The UKIP members I spoke to afterwards were delighted by the Labour speakers. A Green Party member came up to me afterwards for a chat, as did many others – including a lovely couple who had been Labour for decades but couldn’t abide their Party campaigning to stay in the European Union.
I’ve never seen such agreement between people of different political parties. Nigel Farage maybe mentioned immigration a little more than the Trade Unionists did, whilst the Labour speaker mentioned it more than I did. But the focus of the message of freedom from the European Union was the same.
The whole event reminded me of the national campaign in miniature. There’s an incredible degree of togetherness and camaraderie across party political divides. It’s about so much more than ‘UKIP wants to leave the European Union’. The RMT and Aslef trade unions, over 140 Conservative MPs, a Green Party peer, a number of Labour MPs, the old Liberal Party, the DUP and TUV in Northern Ireland, a former Lib Dem MP, the Director-General of the British Chamber of Commerce suspended for daring to back Brexit, the founder of the SDP, entrepreneurs like James Dyson, businesses like Tate & Lyle, JCB, Legal & General and the manager of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. There’s top economists, Nobel prize-winning scientists, founders/co-founders of Superdrug, Littlewoods, Moonpig, Wetherspoons, the boss of Lloyds, the CEO of Next and many more.
The ‘IN’ campaign make much of security, but a former head of Interpol described Schengen as ‘like a sign welcoming terrorists to Europe’. There’s a former head of counter-terrorism at New Scotland Yard, a former Commander of the SAS, an ex-Major General of the Royal Marines, and even one of the names on the pro-EU document supposedly signed by Army chiefs at Downing Street’s request turns out to actually back Brexit.
Whilst the American President is publicly campaigning for the UK to stay in the European Union (I wonder if he’d accept a pan-American union where the USA had to subsidise smaller nations, where the USA didn’t have the power to write its own laws, where ‘gas’ prices more than doubled overnight, where they had to accept unlimited immigration from Mexico and where they had to ask other countries’ permission to set their own foreign policy), his political opponents – who may well be in power come November – take a very different view. Switzerland has just dropped its application to join the EU by a huge majority, with the MP sponsoring the bill saying that they are ‘calling Switzerland Britzerland’ in solidarity with the British people wanting to join them in freedom from the European Union. Like Iceland’s recent overtures, it seems that the European countries outside the EU want to show us that the grass can really be greener on the other side.
Those campaigning to stay in the European Union would have you believe that big business, science, economists, the military, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Trade Unions and half of the Conservative Party are pitted against UKIP and the other half of the Conservative Party.
It’s not working, partly because it’s untrue and partly because people no longer care for being bounced into things by the political establishment. So, they turn to Project Fear instead: before the derby they were claiming that the Premier League would suffer if we left the EU (really? Non-EU footballers ply their trade here – why can Lithuanian footballers come here no questions asked whilst Brazilians have a tough entry system?). They claim we’d be worse off (actually we’d save our membership fee AND rebuild industries like fishing that have been decimated by the EU). They claim we would still have to allow unlimited immigration after Brexit (odd, then, that Liechtenstein doesn’t).
That’s why I say the coming months are about fear versus hope: the conjuring tricks of those trying to terrify us into voting to Remain versus the hope of a prosperous self-governing nation if we Leave.
This article was originally published in The Journal. You can view it online here.