BREX FACTOR: Will Fox’s Spitfire trade plan really fly?

PUBLISHED: 10:36 20 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:11 20 September 2018

What could sum up Britain's place in a brave new world better than the Spitfire? Photo: Getty Images

What could sum up Britain's place in a brave new world better than the Spitfire? Photo: Getty Images

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Steve Anglesey explores the irony of Liam Fox’s plans for a post-Brexit Spitfire flight.

When Liam Fox announced this week that he was backing a post-Brexit around-the-world flight by a restored Spitfire, thoughts inevitably turned to the last politician who decided to weaponise the famous Second World War aircraft.

That was Nick Griffin during the 2009 European election campaign. Hilariously the photo chosen by his BNP on their ‘Battle for Britain’ posters turned out to be a version of the aircraft used exclusively by Polish pilots from the famed RAF 303 Squadron.

At least Fox has avoided a similar gaffe. Although the Silver Spitfire chosen for the flight has spent much of the last 55 years in Dutch museums and its return is being sponsored by a Swiss watch company – could they have a quiet word with Fox about the benefits of single market membership? – it’s in a relatively good nick and thus has avoided the ultimate indignity. The only approved manufacturer of replacement Spitfire propeller blades is based in Germany.

The international trade secretary intends the tour, scheduled to start next May, to provide a launchpad for British trade ambitions after we leave the EU as part of his ‘Exporting Is GREAT’ campaign. “Extraordinary projects such as this are what the GREAT campaign is there to promote – showcasing the best of Britain to the world,” he said.

Only an idiot would deny the Spitfire’s right to national treasure status, or decry the bravery of those who flew them in the Battle of Britain. But given that so much of the Brexiteers’ soundbites are about facing the future (“our best days are ahead of us”, “forward-looking and outward-facing”) it’s strange that Fox’s big idea to whip up new deals is plucked from the past.

Does it feel entirely right to mark withdrawal from the European ideal which has brought 70-odd years of peace by blasting the cobwebs off a symbol of war? Or to go looking for overseas co-operation with a trademark of Empire Britain? Why pick a lovely anachronism over something which stands for a new Britain?

What could Fox have done instead? America once sent Shirley Temple around the world as a trade ambassador, while Russia has recently co-opted the portly martial artist Steven Seagal to forge closer links with American business. The global celebrities who could bat for Britain – Adele, Daniel Radcliffe, David Beckham – are probably ruled out by the toxicity of Brexit. But what about the likes of ardent Leavers Michael Caine and Ringo Starr, who are loved in all four corners of the world?

“Ah,” Fox and friends will say, “the Spitfire is equally adored around the globe because of its wartime role”. But is that really true? Though the plane was invaluable in the defence of Malta, its short range meant it was less successful in the Pacific and adjustments made to cope with hotter climates in North Africa reduced its effectiveness somewhat. Russia quickly phased out its own Spitfires, while America did so too, albeit more gradually.

The plane is revered here, but elsewhere it may be merely respected and not quite the draw Fox imagines it to be. For a while, too, its heritage was tarnished by English football supporters – scores of inflatable Spitfires were waved at England’s 2010 defeat to Germany in South Africa as the opposition were repeatedly reminded we had won two world wars and one World Cup. They didn’t seem to care and thrashed us 4-1.

But just imagine Fox is right and the world goes ga-ga for the Silver Spitfire. A queue forms outside his door of emissaries begging for tariff-free deals with the UK. But with the plane back in its hanger, which 1940s icon would he turn to as a follow-up?

At 101 years of age, even the venerable Vera Lynn can no longer be relied upon. Therefore Fox may be forced to call on Theresa May, her legs coloured with gravy browning a la the famous ‘wartime nylons’, to do her bit by belting out We’ll Meet Again while her husband Philip yells “hello, playmates” in the manner of his lookalike, Arthur Askey.

And what next for the Silver Spitfire itself? In Fox’s dreams, it flies past thousands of cheering Brexiteers atop the White Cliffs of Dover, soars high above the spanking new £15bn Brexit Bridge before delighting the royals with a perfect landing on the deck of their £100m Brexit yacht.

In no deal reality, it’s going to be repurposed to drop food and medication parcels on parts of the UK affected by shortages while airlifting rotting goods across the hard Irish border. As the long-suffering maintenance sergeant says in the 1969 movie The Battle Of Britain as he sees his battered and bruised Spitfire make a decidedly bumpy landing: “It’s enough to make you weep.”

Farage to be the pride of Bolton

Nigel Farage is holding the first public event of his Leave Means Leave tour this Saturday, September 22 – a date which surprisingly clashes with the second day of the UKIP conference.

While Gerard Batten’s Batty Army are gathering in Birmingham’s ICC (built with £50 million of EU funding), Farage is joining David Davis and Kate Hoey onstage at Bolton Wanderers’ football ground for a rally which might have been dubbed Last Of The Brexit Wine.

The double booking has doubtless irked some ’Kippers who might ordinarily have attended both events. But there is a far more fascinating clash in prospect for Leavers heading to Bolton.

The town’s Pride event, celebrating the LGBT+ community, is also being held on Saturday, so attendees at the £5-a-head Brexit event (tickets still available, amazingly) can warm up by taking part in the Pride Parade from Queens Park before heading off to hear Farage spread his gospel of diversity and tolerance.

And once DD and Hoey have whipped them up into a frenzy, loved-up Leavers can head back into the town’s Victoria Square for live performances from KY Kelly and Davina De Camp.

The event also offers the public a first look at Farage’s new-look barnet, as showcased on Good Morning Britain.

Gone is the ash grey look sported by the nicotine-stained man-frog when he appeared on the show back in February, and in its place is a lovely chestnut brown.

Good to see Nigel taking back control of his hair and returning it to the colour it must have been before it fell under the EU’s yoke of oppression back in 1973.

Brexiteers of the Week

NIGEL LAWSON

Told LBC that post-Brexit “disruption will be very minor, and it’ll be over within a year. From there on out we will be benefiting”.

That’s reassuring news, especially from the man who promised in his 1988 budget speech: “There will be no letting up in our determination to defeat inflation ... I have reaffirmed the prudent policies which have brought us unprecedented economic strength. And I have balanced the budget.”

A few months on, inflation had risen from 3% to 8%, interest rates had doubled to 15% and the UK was running its largest ever balance-of-payments deficit.

And of course, Lawson won’t even be around for the ‘year of minor disruption’. Last May he applied for permanent residency in France.

BORIS JOHNSON

Used Australian slang while giving a speech in America, telling a confused audience of right-wing conservatives in Washington DC: “One of the reasons people voted to Leave was because they felt they were not getting a fair suck of the sauce bottle.”

Given his current domestic circumstances, it’s probably just as well that Johnson did not use an increasingly popular Aussie variant of the phrase – “a fair suck of the saveloy” – instead.

BERNARD JENKIN

After Jaguar Land Rover boss Ralf Speth claimed Brexit could cost his company £1.2bn a year and result in thousands of job losses, the Tory MP appeared on Radio 4’s Today and sniffed: “I’m afraid I think he’s making it up. We’ve had figures made up all the time by the scaremongers in this debate and I’m afraid nobody believes them.”

Less than eight hours later, JLR announced that workers at their Castle Bromwich plant in the Midlands were being put on a three-day week because of Brexit fears. As Ted Bovis used to say, “the first rule of comedy, Spike? Timing”.

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