BREX FACTOR: The American who wants to fund Brexit
- Credit: Archant
Brex Factor looks at the pro-Leave fundraising campaign chaired by former Ronald Reagan staffer Peggy Grande.
On the day Boris Johnson became prime minister, Nigel Farage had his eyes on a different prize. As the unelected PM moved into Downing Street, the Brexit Party's unelected leader was in New York for the launch of World For Brexit, a pro-Leave fundraising campaign chaired by former Ronald Reagan staffer Peggy Grande.
Suggesting that, contrary to George Bernard Shaw's belief, the United States and Great Britain are separated by more than a common language, Grande, a cheerful Californian, believes her group to be a necessary counterweight against an all-powerful Remain establishment which denies its rivals airtime ("it feels like Nigel Farage is a lone voice," she says) while taking part in what she calls a "suppression of democracy", possibly funded by "hidden money and working through illegal means". Readers of The New European, meanwhile, might view it as a cynical attempt by American businesses to anonymously bankroll Farage's self-styled 'British independence movement'. And wasn't it Farage who moaned in 2016 that Barack Obama had "behaved disgracefully" by "interfering in our debate over national sovereignty"?
Like many right-wing US fundraising groups, W4B has been set up with '501(c)(4)' status, allowing it to keep secret the identities of donors giving up to $5,000. Doubtless some who contribute will be ordinary private individuals who, as Grande says "support free and fair elections. When we see interference in voting across the world there is global outrage but in this case there seems to be very little." But she admits "obviously a lot will be business owners interested in having open and direct trade with the UK" if no-deal Brexit is quickly followed by a US/UK trade deal. Potentially a good outcome for them, almost certainly a disastrous one for those of us who live over here and will have to deal with the chaos that follows a disorderly exit from the EU. So much for taking back control.
Ask Grande what Americans would make of an anonymous fundraising campaign by British left-wingers aimed at weakening president Trump, or encouraging Texas to secede from the union, and she replies that "all over the world there is funding for all kinds of resistance movements - things like that are probably happening everywhere". But, she insists, W4B is neither interfering or doing anything wrong. "The referendum has happened, we're not meddling in a British election," she says. "Let me be clear that we are not interfering. We are just advocates who want to align with our friends across the pond. If you want to talk about interference, what about the obstruction of your parliament to obstruct a democratic vote? What about Barack Obama, who said in the referendum that voting for Brexit would send the UK to the back of the queue? That's interference. What about Nancy Pelosi threatening not to sign off on a trade deal with Boris Johnson if she doesn't like his solution for Ireland?"
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Grande sounds earnest in her belief a huge Remain money machine has been crushing the brave Brexit resistance. "Some of it has been privately funded, some very publicly funded" by George Soros, she says. Yet the Hungarian-American has contributed only around £800,000 of his £6.6billion wealth. "That is what has been publicly declared, but we are not hiding money and routing it through illegal means," she says.
Does Grande believe Soros and other Remain backers are doing that? "I'm not saying it and it may or may not be true but it's been widely written and talked about," she says. When I reply that not many of these accusations have made the UK press - although there are plenty of suspicions about the source of Leave money - and that W4B's anonymous donations are hardly transparent, she replies breezily that this is an example of "what they call alternative facts."
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I think Grande is misguided about this and several other things; she thinks the same of us and our worries about food safety following a US/UK trade deal. Also present at W4B's New York launch was Mississippi governor Phil Bryant, a real charmer whose greatest hits include signing a bill allowing businesses the right to deny service to same-sex couples and transgender people on religious grounds and another prohibiting abortions when a foetal heartbeat can be detected - which is around six weeks, before many women will even know they are pregnant. The product of a private segregationist high school, he has continued to support his state's designation of each April as Confederate History Month, honouring the four-year period when seven slave-holding states attempted to break with the union.
Bryant tweeted that he was "proud to have joined my friends Nigel Farage and Peggy Grande in New York City at an event to support the fight for Brexit" and with Mississippi among America's top poultry states, it may be that he is soon rewarded with a trade deal which will force us to taste the infamous chlorinated chicken. "Whatever the powers that be decide, I'm sure the UK consumer will be protected," says Grande. "But isn't the real question about whether the UK really wants to have to ask the EU for permission?" Some will find Grande's assurances harder to swallow than the chlorinated chicken itself. It's difficult too to hear her say that she hopes to help Britain "lead and not follow" while running a fundraiser which will help American business owners get the kind of Brexit they most desire.
But, like her former boss, Grande is a slick operator. Of course she's seen the video of Reagan at the European Parliament in 1985, lauding the EU with the words "there is no greater testament to reconciliation and the peaceful unity of Europe". But, she says, "he always believed in more democracy over more bureaucracy, always believed that a smaller government was a better government, always respected democratic votes and the will of the people".
In the end, Grande says, she knows that while TNE readers will buy very little of this, she believes in more civility of discourse between political opponents. Amen to that. And certainly we can all get behind this message on a WFB tweet from July 25, showing a photo of Grande with Farage: "We are committed to championing the people's vote."
I think we know what George Bernard Shaw would have said about that.
BREXITEERS OF THE WEEK
4. THERESE COFFEY
On the day Boris Johnson took power, the Suffolk Coastal MP tweeted: "Our 6-point plan from our new Conservatives leader". There followed this plan: "Brexit by October 31. The NHS. Schools. Police. The economy."
Unkind mathematicians soon let Therese know that this was in fact a five-point plan. But it didn't matter. In our brave new world where even Nadine Dorries can become a minister, Coffey was swiftly rewarded for not being able to add up by being promoted to a middle-ranking minister of state in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
No doubt she would say the department's title encompasses four important things!
3. JAMIE OLIVER
Having previously blamed Brexit for the struggles of his Italian restaurant chain, the celebrity chef now backs us leaving the EU, telling The Times: "It is divisive and has split families and workplaces. My own family has been split over it. But I believe in democracy and I believe in moving on and we should get on with it."
It's a long way from last November, when he told a German press agency: "I was against Brexit from the beginning and I certainly did not vote in favour of it, I took a clear stand at the time and I think that it's a really, really bad idea."
What a silly pukka.
2. MARK FRANCOIS
The portly Penfold From Danger Mouse lookalike showed off his wit on Newsnight when he referred to the European Commission president as "Herr Juncker in the bunker." Jean-Claude Juncker is from Luxembourg and therefore not a herr. Nor is he likely to find jokes about bunkers funny: in 1942, his father was one of 10,000 Luxembourgish forcibly conscripted into the German army, of whom nearly 3,000 died.
It's another example of the Rayleigh and Wickford MP's sad obsession with World War II. Earlier this year, he accused anti-Brexit Airbus CEO Tom Enders of being "a German paratrooper in his youth". Enders was born in 1958.
1. MIKE PARRY
The rotund journalist told Jeremy Vine On 5 that "Boris Johnson is the brightest man in Britain… made for the moment to rescue Britain from the malaise we've been in."
Listeners to Talksport will recall even more sensible Parry statements down the years - including calls for racehorses to be fitted with wing mirrors so jockeys can see behind them.
Parry also backs the fitting of ejector seats in Formula One cars to improve driver safety and believes that the pace of sporting advances mean "the 100m will one day be run in one second, but probably not in our lifetime".
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