Coutts’ decision to close down Nigel Farage’s bank account surely delighted him far more than any bonus interest payment or logo-encrusted wallet could ever have done. It put him in the newspaper headlines and leading the news bulletins. It even had cabinet ministers, unable to resist an easy soundbite, leaping to his defence.
There is nothing that Farage craves more than publicity and, it has to be acknowledged, he is hugely effective at securing it. He was an obscure City trader until, in 1999, he succeeded in becoming an MEP. But, once he assumed leadership of the UK Independence Party, he became ubiquitous. Images of Farage, usually in his velvet-collared overcoat with pint glass in one hand and cigarette in the other, were as unavoidable as his constant bad-mouthing of the parliament in which he sat and the organisation of which it was a part.
Farage was Mr Brexit before the concept of Brexit existed. He became the figurehead for a small group of politicians who could never condone the idea of the UK being part of the EU. Along with the likes of Bill Cash and John Redwood, he was seen as a figure of fun by many but that did not stop him shouting his case at every opportunity.
Has the time come for those who really believe that Britain is better off inside Europe to take a leaf out of the Farage Playbook and start shouting about it?
To even venture the thought is to court rebuke, even among those who share the belief. They accept the commonly held view that any suggestion of Rejoin will have Brexiteers taking to the barricades – the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Express – to hurl grenades of abuse, allegations of treachery and accusations of contempt for democracy. While the Tories feel obliged to try to talk up the benefits of Brexit – an impossible task that leaves them looking ludicrous since there are none – Labour is squeamish about taking a stance which might alienate some Brexit voters, so continues to witter about “making Brexit work”. Even the LibDems, who do quietly admit that they think it would be nice if, one day, not any time soon, the UK might rejoin the EU but, in the meantime, “let’s just try and be a bit more friendly”.
If Farage and his friends had taken such a pussyfooting approach, the UK would surely still be part of the EU. However, by shrieking their propaganda at every opportunity – and they were adroit at creating opportunities where others might not have spotted them – they gradually changed the political landscape.
Given the evidence that is piling up to demonstrate the disastrous scale of the Brexit mistake, there is ample scope for the Rejoiners to start preparing the ground. They will risk mockery and far worse attack; they may be hushed by those who see their actions as counterproductive and the main political parties may expel them. But unless they shout, they will not be heard.
There are already campaign groups which espouse the Rejoin cause, not least the European Movement and Best for Britain, which produces excellent research and polling. But Farage succeeded because, as has been the case in recent days, he was all over the mainstream media. In the run-up to the referendum on the EU, he managed more appearances on Question Time than any other politician.
He knew how to give voice to what others were thinking but dared not say. It was not fashionable to be a member of Ukip when he became chairman in 2006 but by the time of the elections to the European Parliament in 2009, he had wooed sufficient support to ensure that Ukip received the second largest proportion of UK votes.
It should be easier for Rejoin to make its argument heard now. Business, which was largely cravenly quiet in the run-up to the referendum, is increasingly vocal in calling out the downsides of Brexit. It is desperate for a restoration of sensible trading arrangements with the EU and, no matter how hard Kemi Badenoch tries to cajole companies into extolling the opportunities offered by the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, she is not succeeding. The trade secretary’s hectoring cannot overcome the fact that the government itself estimates that the deal will add just 0.08% to GDP over 10 years because the UK already has trade deals with most members of the pact.
The cultural sector is just as unhappy as business over the fall-out from Brexit. Mention the word and it occasions a deep outpouring of misery from artists and musicians of every variety. Scientists struggle to comprehend the idiocy of the continuing failure to rejoin the Horizon project as the government haggles over terms.
Readers of the New European are only too aware of the despair felt by those who truly believe that a united Europe is key to a safer, more prosperous, more comfortable continent and the UK should play a leading part in it. So perhaps it is time we stopped telling ourselves that and consoling ourselves with the occasional march with mates. Rejoining will be a long process and negotiating acceptable terms will be far from easy, but the preparation needs to start now.