The long but ultimately successful battle to get Britain out of the EU shows pro-Europeans still have plenty to fight for, says Brexit Party official GAWAIN TOWLER.
It has been a bruising year for Remainers. Twelve months ago it looked like the People’s Vote campaign, in concert with business, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the vast majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the broader membership, along with many Conservatives, both inside and outside the Houses of Parliament, might prevail. Momentum (with a small ‘m’) was with them, and the prime minister was less lame duck than dead parrot.
The conviction grew that the UK would revoke Article 50, or at least have a third referendum. But it didn’t come to pass, in the most spectacular of ways: The Brexit Party’s resounding success in the European elections changed everything; Theresa May fell; the Tories elected Boris Johnson, who got a deal (well, sort of) and called an election; Labour offered the most unelectable leader and most incomprehensible policy on Europe that could be imagined; the Lib Dems vanished into a vortex of their own imagination, risible to vast swathes of the electorate. The dream died.
Sir Ed Davey still waves the winding sheet around; Nicola Sturgeon huffs and puffs, but will soon move on to other arguments in pursuit of her ultimate cause; Labour is going through its own pretty ghastly blood-letting, of which Brexit is only one part.
Meanwhile, the centre is beginning to accept the result. Others will follow. But for those who want to continue the campaign, my message to you is to take heart and look at us, your opponents. Even now, there is a way forward.
When I first became involved in the campaign to get the UK out of the EU, it was, well, a niche interest, polling at just 2%. After the 1975 referendum it was clear that Britain was in the then common market for the long haul. Despite this, some souls, convinced that independence was a better route, refused to sit down and shut up.
There were always organisations to represent them. The Anti-Common Market League and the Campaign for an Independent Britain had lost that referendum but they refused to simply pack up. Quixotically, they soldiered on.
Regarded as harmlessly eccentric, they produced papers that few read, and threw conferences that few attended. Eventually, though, governments make mistakes. They always do: the Maastricht Treaty was forced through without a referendum; the pound came under threat. In response, new organisations bubbled up. The Referendum Party flashed and then burnt out, the Anti-Federalist League, morphed into UKIP under the influence of Nigel Farage, the Bruges Group flourished.
The electoral impact of the Eurosceptics was derisory, but something was happening. UKIP, with a charismatic leader – you can dislike him, but cannot deny that – started to make waves, especially in European elections (not an avenue open for any new Remain party, alas), taking three seats in 1999, 12 in 2004, 13 and 2009 and then 24 in 2014 – a result which freaked the political establishment.
Having been dismissed as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” not long before, quite suddenly we were enough of an electoral threat to be offered a new referendum.
The lesson, then, is clear. With a genuine and deeply-held belief among supporters and (the importance of this cannot be overstated) a leader of real charisma, plus some ‘favourable’ political developments, a lot of patience and a bit of electoral luck, there is no reason why rejoining the European Union should be an unrealistic objective.
It might just take a little time. And be prepared to be insulted, dismissed and laughed at until you get there. We certainly were.
Gawain Towler has worked as the Brexit Party’s head of media