RACHEL JOHNSON: What I said to make Farage storm off without a goodbye

PUBLISHED: 13:14 22 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:23 22 February 2019

Nigel Farage and Rachel Johnson at a conference. Photograph: Euronews.

Nigel Farage and Rachel Johnson at a conference. Photograph: Euronews.

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Rachel Johnson despairs after Nigel storms off without saying goodbye.

I owe a big debt to telly’s John McAndrew because he got me my little gig on Sky News, and is a bloody nice bloke. When he asked me to do a filmed Brexit breakfast with Nigel Farage, Brexity junior minister Kwasi Kwarteng and Richard Tice, the founder of Leave means Leave, well... I am a loyal, obedient, Labrador-like soul and my answer was decisive and immediate: “No.” It was to be no deal. Nothing, I intimated, would persuade me to get out of bed early to be told that all was the best in all possible worlds, against all the evidence. Then, of course, the negotiations started. Jose Manuel Barroso, non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs and former president of the European Commission, was giving the keynote; firecracker MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt would be batting for my side; there would be breakfast at the Saatchi Gallery, ie croissants, maybe even those glasses filled with plain yoghurt with granola on top. In the end we did a deal at the eleventh hour (everyone has their price and don’t worry, I am a cheap date). But it was still mainly out of respect for the organisers, the excellent Euronews (ie John McA and his boss Deborah Turness, who once kindly took me out to lunch) that I showed up in navy DVF shirt-dress on the Kings’ Road to shoot the early breeze with Leave for the cameras and invited audience. Also, I admit, I was curious: Euronews had done some polling (I’ll come to the nutty results in a sec), and also, what on earth would Richard Tice of L means L, Nigel and Kwasi have to say now both main parties were being held hostage by their swivel-eyed extreme wings, and Labour had actually cracked up, just as Honda had announced it was bailing from the UK in the wake of Dyson, Panasonic, Lloyds, Airbus, Flybmi, HSBC, Ford, Hitachi, etc etc, all on the previous day? What would they come up with?

• The pitch was rolled beautifully by Barroso, who gave a well-judged tour d’horizon in which he insisted that the UK and the EU would always be significant others, and how Europe would try to “mitigate the negative effects” of the UK’s decision to leave the bloc, but there was no getting away from the reality. The EU was one of the three economic poles in the world today and the UK henceforth would be a minor coastal state and not in the global top league along with the EU, the US, and China. I noticed Nigel harrumphing a bit through this. José also flagged up how the UK’s secession will leave the EU poorer: the UK was an important nuclear power with seat on the UN security council and “one of the most important financial centres” in the world (note: not the). And as for the negotiations, he placed the blame on the pedantic insistence on sequencing, which meant that the Irish border became a roadblock almost immediately, impeding further progress. As Nigel’s eyelids fluttered, José analysed the problems created by a referendum (a small majority for no in 2016 had led to no majority for any majority for a way forward since). He predicted that everyone would move as the clock ticked to midnight. “We will remain partners, we will remain friends, we will remain neighbours, we will remain allies,” José said in peroration. “You will notice I said remain four times, because that is my preference and that is what I wish the UK had done.” (Cheers and claps).

• Oh yes, the nutty polling: around a third of people in France and Italy think we’ve already left the EU. If you add in all the people in the UK who think we left on June 24, 2016, and if not, why not? and those who think that no-deal means the status quo, the question uppermost in my mind is, why don’t we stop trying to leave and simply stay, as nobody frankly knows the difference? Send everyone who voted Leave a hard-backed blue passport and be done with it.

• My event with Nigel was a car crash as he almost came to blows when the MEP said we had to think of our children and grandchildren and I interrupted and said “Anna Maria, don’t worry about Nigel’s children, they’ve got German passports” and he stormed off without even saying goodbye. NI-GEL!

• I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about a little thing I’ve done for Comic Relief, so allow me instead to pay my respects to Emma Freud, OBE, who has edited scripts and co-produced many hit films with her boyfriend Richard Curtis; presented programmes; had four children, and raised a billion pounds for charity. If I could chalk up a fraction of her achievements to my name (which is mud) I would die happy. Comic Relief is on the BBC on March 15. Please donate as much as you can.

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