Richard North, 15/01/2018  

It was in 2002 that, as the senior staff member on Ukip's European Parliament team, I started talking seriously to Farage about setting up our own think-tank in Brussels. My argument was that the debate had to be driven by the best information available and that we would need to develop a post exit strategy in order to clinch the deal.

I will not go back into the detail of that period other than to say that Farage was committed to his election strategy and all available funding went into financing his ambitions to become a member of the Westminster parliament. Research was nowhere on his agenda.

It took until 2013 for there to be any wider recognition that a formal post-exit plan was needed, leading to the botched IEA Brexit competition, judged by the malevolent Lord Lawson who managed to pick a winner who disappeared into obscurity almost as fast as he emerged.

Come the referendum, the Ukip leader and his party were completely unequipped to fight the campaign, having spent no time or effort developing an exit plan of their own. Worse still, through Arron Banks, our attempts to introduce Flexcit were rejected, following on from the stupidity of Dominic Cummings in insisting that the leave campaign should not have an exit plan.

Following the referendum, we thus found ourselves in a political vacuum, an entirely predictable state of affairs, where the fragmented "leavers" had no settled ideas of how we should manage Brexit, while the self-proclaimed leaver-in-chief departed the field and had absolutely nothing of interest to say.

Now, this intellectual pygmy is returing to the fray with a complaint, enthusiastically retailed by the Observer on its front page, that the remainers "are making all the running" in the post-referendum debate. He fears, as a result, that "our historic Brexit vote could now be reversed".

With an extraordinary lack of self-awareness, this "former Ukip leader" tells the Observer that he was becoming increasingly worried that "the Leave camp had stopped fighting their corner", leaving a well-funded and organised Remain operation free to influence the political and public debate without challenge.

And this is a man who, while actually in post as the Ukip leader, prohibited his staff from reading and remains unware of its contents or the fact that we have never, ever stopped fighting. We have been there, every day, while he prats around in America and on his ghastly LBC radio show, doing anything and everything but focus on Brexit.

Quite obviously lacking any understanding of the processes involved, he whines that the "case for a complete break from the EU was no longer being made", even by pro-Brexit MPs in parliament. Instead, he says, the Remain camp was relentlessly putting out its message that a hard Brexit would be ruinous to the British economy and bad for the country, "without people hearing the counter-argument that had secured Brexiters victory in the 2016 referendum campaign".

And there, writ large, is the ineffable inadequacy of the man. The whole point is that leavers are not putting across any coherent plan for leaving the EU, but are allowing the "ultras" free rein to promote the idea of a "hard" Brexit which could only bring economic ruin upon us.

Farage says he now has a similar feeling to the one he had 20 years ago when Tony Blair appeared to be preparing the country for an eventual entry into the euro.

Amazingly, he then tells us: "I think the Leave side is in danger of not even making the argument", then asserting that: "The Leave groups need to regather and regroup, because Remain is making all the arguments. After we won the referendum, we closed the doors and stopped making the argument".

This, to the Observer is a "rallying call" to us leavers. It reflects, the paper says, "genuine alarm among hard line Brexit supporters that too many concessions have already been made to the Remain side of the Brexit argument by Theresa May's government, and that more could follow".

Yet, when it comes to closing the doors and ceasing to make the arguments, that criticism applies most directly and with greatest force to Farage himself. Even now he has no real (or any) idea of where to go next and how to recover the situation.

However, for all of Farage's inadequacies, we cannot leave the media out of the equation. Through the entire process, it has given Farage a platform and never once challenged his lack of vision. The Forth Estate, which supposedly holds politicians to account, has spectacularly failed to put the Ukip leader on the spot. And now, uncritically, it allows him whine about the travails of the "leave" movement.

To a very great extent, though, Farage is whistling in the wind – as out of touch as ever he was. He fears there is no longer a majority in the Westminster parliament for Brexit and that a "meaningful vote" on the final deal could see it vetoed by MPs.

Despite his, the crux of the matter is that the power resides in Brussels, not Westminster (or even Whitehall). Already, Mrs May is dancing to the Brussels tune with her (so far) uncritical acceptance of the "vassal state" transition process and there is every indication that the UK will be forced into the mould set by the "colleagues".

Given the opportunity to comment on the situation – as he has been – Farage would have been better advised to question Mrs May's negotiation strategy, and her apparent willingness to concede a transition agreement which will so much disadvantage the UK.

That, of course, would require Farage to be a master of detail and, throughout the referendum campaign and subsequently, he has never shown any indication of understanding the issues.

Nor indeed has the other intellectually challenged advocate of Brexit – Alexander Johnson, who privately shares Farage's concerns that the referendum result could yet be reversed. He is warning that Brexit is still far from certain and that leavers in the government "face a big fight" to deliver it.

The "establishment" across Whitehall and the City, he says, will step up efforts to stop Brexit over the next twelve months. He also fears that Mrs May will be worn down and eventually forced to accept a bad deal by mandarins and Remain-leaning Cabinet ministers during the "trade negotiations" that start in March.

It is a measure of the man that he should make this complaint when the trade negotiations don't start until we have left the EU. But we can expect nothing of a man who apparently believes that having to accept diktats from Brussels would leave the UK as "just another Norway", making the referendum "a total waste of time". He would, he says, "rather us stay in than leave like that".

That this is the best he can offer comes as no surprise. From Johnson and Farage, during the campaign we got classic examples of how not to fight a referendum so it would be more than a little optimistic to expect sensible contributions from either of the pair right now.

Hopefully though (and most probably), their contributions are just noise. Farage in particular has been a waning star for some time and the contortions of the new Ukip leader cannot be helping his already tarnished reputation. And as for Johnson, this man is also losing influence with each passing day.

On the other hand, not just Farage but neither seem to have the faintest glimmer of self-awareness – a trait common in British politics. Were they to realise how fatuous they both sound, be might currently be enjoying a period of silence.

But since neither of them have learned to shut up, and the incontinent media will always give them a platform, we have not heard the last of them just yet.

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