Richard North, 29/12/2016  

The reason I feared we were going to lose the referendum was the dire performance of the official Vote Leave campaign, and in particular the crass claim that we could save £350 million a week through no longer paying EU subscriptions – money which, supposedly, could be spent on the NHS.

To this day, I take the view that we won not because of the official campaign but in spite of it. Without the utterly facile and vacuous efforts of the Elliott and Cummings duo, and relieved of the interventions of the likes of Michael Gove and Alexander (Boris) Johnson, we could have won with a far more substantial margin.

With that in mind, the only decent thing these former campaigners could do is hang their collective heads in shame, and disappear from public sight. They need to keep silent on the issue of Brexit, about which they quite evidently know precious little.

In this respect, the very last thing we need is Mr Gove crawling out of his hole to defend his indefensible £350 million claim, arguing that the figure was "robust" and could not yet be proved true or false, "because the UK had not yet left the EU".

Through the campaign and previously, I have taken a great deal of flak for calling out the stupidity of people who quite evidently are behaving in a stupid fashion.

My use of the term is actually less frequent than some people assert, but I will bow to no man in maintaining my belief that Michel Gove deserves this accolade – and in spades. To call the man stupid is not an insult – it is a statement of fact. On the same basis that, if a creature looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it most probably is a duck - Gove is a very stupid man.

When it comes to arguing that we could save £350 million a week on the terms claimed by Gove, there can be no dispute whatsoever that the figure is indefensible. Not only is it wrong in fact, its authors knew it to be wrong, yet sought to promote it as a campaign tactic which enabled them to keep EU costs in the public eye.

But in my view, it is never good tactics to resort to lying. Whatever short-term gains there might be, in the longer term, the lie will catch you out. And in this case, that is precisely what it is doing, poisoning the post-referendum debate and obscuring more important issues.

Furthermore, we are all tarred with the same brush. The media and "remainers" attribute the lie to the "leave" campaign in general rather than that subset of humanity which hijacked the cause and used it for their own purposes.

Contrary to Vote Leave's misguided propaganda, the point we were making, right from the start, was that money was not the issue – a point that was supported by post-referendum polls. To focus on the money was a misstep. Then to build the argument on a lie was just crass - to say nothing of counter-productive.

Months before the referendum, we were able to demonstrate that it was unlikely that there would be any savings from leaving the EU (in the short term, at least). In fact, there is a distinct possibility that leaving could cost more than staying in.

For Gove to promote the lie during the campaign – knowingly and with premeditation – makes him a liar. This is the use of plain English. People who tell lies are liars. Gove tells lies. Gove is a liar. Then, after the lie has been so comprehensively debunked, to assert that the figure is "robust" is just stupid. There is no other credible and honest way of putting it. Gove is not only a liar - he is a stupid liar.

And if that was not enough, to suggest that the figure could not yet be proved true or false "because the UK had not yet left the EU" is of such jaw-dropping fatuity that one is almost lost for words. The figure was demonstrably false the first time it was uttered, and remains so now. When we leave the EU, it will still be false.

What this says of Mr Gove, therefore, is that there in an unworldliness about him that could so easily be seen as his displaying contempt for all of us. In the way of things, for a man to lie so openly and with no concern for the consequences suggest either a form of mental illness or that he believes us all to be so stupid that we will accept his lie at face value. And that is arrogance.

Mr Gove, in fact, does present a demeanour that suggest he is superior to all of us – the essence of the arrogance for which we so love the political élite. Yet, even as a member of that political élite, he would cast himself as champion of the public which, he says, have "had enough of experts".

That is as maybe. Actually, we have had enough of all-purpose experts – people such as economists and lawyers who may or may not be expert in their own fields, but who then trade on this slender base to claim expertise in far wider areas than is warranted by their qualifications and experience.

We have also had enough of the condescension and sneers of people whose only real ability is to parade their ignorance without shame, repeating the same errors endlessly and ignoring correction, purporting to be superior to us mere plebs.

And into that category Mr Gove slides effortlessly, with his lies and his stupidity, and his entirely unwarranted assumption that he in any way represents us, or that his lies were welcomed and believed. This is the man so lacking in self-awareness that he was able, on the BBC Today programme, to attack "groupthink" and people who "think they know best".

So, whether or not we have had enough of "experts", we most certainly have had enough of Mr Gove. We've had enough of his faux research operation, Change Britain, and its trivial, self-important drivel.

And we've had enough of all those people clustered around Gove who are poisoning the post-referendum debate with their lies, their ignorance, their wilful misrepresentation of the facts and their refusal to engage in honest argument over substantive issues. We are sick to the hind teeth of their patronising assumption of superiority and their belief that they are defining the debate. 

What this self-regarding dross needs to realise is that this is not about them. When it comes to the negotiations proper, the financial settlement with the EU is going to be an important part of the talks. Most likely, the remaining Member States will seek assurances from the UK as to continued payments before they are prepared to consider the detail of a new relationship.

With Gove and his fellow travellers perpetuating the myth that there are savings to be made from Brexit, and that we can cease making contributions to the EU, they are making it very hard for the Prime Minister to offer concessions, the lack of which could cause the negotiations to collapse.

Already, we are hearing reports that Mrs May is struggling to come to terms with the complexity of Brexit. So, rather than her back-benchers making life more difficult, they need to be working with her to ease the way for a settlement that, even with the best will in the world, is going to be difficult to achieve.

Instead, we have rampant egos dominating the field, creating such mayhem that they could frustrate the very thing they claim to be supporting, all in the name of the unachievable, based on a lie.

Thinking aloud on this, for want of such people doing the decent thing and vacating the political field, it seems to me that those of us – from both sides of the divide - who are prepared to entertain a realistic settlement and will accept compromises to achieve one, need to be more assertive.

The likes of Gove do not represent us, and never did. Most of what Vote Leave did invited the comment, "not in my name". Their current plans for a train-wreck Brexit are not ones which we endorse.

As I was remarking in my previous blogpost, they may be the noise-makers but we are most probably the majority. And there is too much at stake for us to be a silent majority. We need to put Gove and his Big Lie back in the box and nail down the lid.

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