Richard North, 09/11/2019  

I don't know why anyone should be surprised that Johnson should be out of his depth when it comes to his own withdrawal agreement, and whether traders have to fill in customs declarations when they send goods across the Irish Sea.

In technical areas, he has consistently shown his ignorance of finer details, from bananas to kippers, and he has never taken the trouble to keep himself informed. This is a man who flies by the seat of his pants and gets away with it because his supporters have suspended their critical faculties for far too long.

Now we are lumbered with this man, who has set himself up as the champion of Brexit. And we even have Arron Banks apparently falling out with Nigel Farage. According to the Telegraph, the former "bad boy" and his side-kick Andy Wigmore, are looking at teaming up with the Conservatives to use the clout of their Leave.EU website to urge people to vote Tory, rather than for the Brexit Party.

Banks believes it is "insanity" to be standing candidates in Bath, Winchester or Newbury. "Why", he says, "would you do that, why would you try to actively let Liberal Democrats into Parliament. It is crazy". Wigmore takes up the theme, adding: "We recognise that Boris is the only option, we recognise that we have a very powerful tool in our social media".

He continues: "We have been very supportive of what the Tories have been doing, we have become an echo chamber for a number of their key policy statements". According to Wigmore, "We have that huge reach - we are going to make sure our voters and supporters know the risk that if you don't vote for Boris then you are going to let Corbyn and the Lib-Dems in and then Brexit is over".

Whether the Leave.EU team is of any use to the Tories remains to be seen – the outfit has a chequered history which would deter most established political parties from admitting any association. But these are strange times, and normal rules no longer seem to apply.

Nor is this the only "hit" that Farage has taken from Leave.EU. In a piece published today by, Alex Andreou writes of a "detailed plan" for leaving the EU, "which Nigel Farage's Leave.EU signed up to in January 2016". Andreou cites the opening paragraph of this plan, which states:
Leaving the EU will have significant geopolitical and economic consequences. But we believe it is unrealistic to expect a clean break, immediately unravelling forty years of integration in a single step.
And on that basis, he claims that "We all instinctively know that politicians shift the goalposts when it suits them, but it is rare that they do so as quickly or as blatantly as the leader of the Brexit party". "It is rarer still", Andreou continues, "to be able to pin down precisely the extent, based on indisputable documentary evidence".

However, I rather suspect that Andreou is adding two and two and making five. What he has done is pick up my post of 8 January 2016 (months before the referendum) when I announced that, following several meetings with Banks and Wigmore, I had agreed to work with Leave.EU as a consultant for the duration of the EU Referendum campaign.

As part of the package, I wrote, Leave.EU had decided to adopt Flexcit as their formal exit plan, subject to a rebranding exercise which I was then working on. This became The Market Solution.

At the time, Andy Wigmore agreed to a statement, saying: "the campaign is keen to work with the best brains and opinions we can find to make sure the UK public know the truth and also the best solution for the UK". He added, "This is above party politics and above egos anyone who wants to be out of the EU is on the same side".

It turned out, of course, that we weren't on the same side. I knew that Banks was in close touch with Farage (he'd even suggested that we meet), but of what passed between them I have no knowledge. All I know was that, rather as had happened with Cummings, Banks broke off contact and ditched Flexcit (aka The Market Solution). But I don't think, even in the brief period that Banks endorsed the plan, Farage had ever taken it on board.

Nevertheless, with exposure on Twitter and multiple re-tweets, there is significant exposure to the claim that Farage once accepted that it was "unrealistic to expect a clean break", yet he is doing precisely that.

It is of some little consolation, though, that Bruno Waterfield, The Times EU correspondent, tweets that at least one senior Whitehall mandarin was looking at Flexcit as a model in summer to autumn 2016. It was, apparently, "killed off" by Treasury hostility to EEA/EFTA and Nick Timothy in Downing Street.

We were so near yet so far. Yet Andreou writes that, to date, Flexcit "is the ONLY detailed plan put forward by Leavers" (his capitals) – and indeed it was, and still is. The revised copy, although now a little dated, is still way ahead of the field, augmented by my Monograph series and, of course, the daily blogposts, closing on two million words since the referendum.

Readers can imagine how frustrating it is to see our cause represented by the "lurching and rambling Johnson, who now has a website dedicated to his "lies, falsehoods and misrepresentations".

As such, he presents an easy target for the enemies of Brexit and not only does Marina Hyde rise to the challenge, another article observes that the prime minister in office "does not appear keen to meet the public".

We saw something of this in Johnson's leadership campaign when the prize was his to lose – which had his minders keeping him away from the media and the public lest he open his mouth and spoil his own chances.

Now we have the Guardian reporting that Johnson's outriders "used to boast during the 2016 referendum that unlike David Cameron, whose slick campaign events were carefully controlled, their man actually enjoyed the rough and tumble of getting off the Vote Leave bus and in among the public".

But, it says, at the end of this first gaffe-strewn week of the general election campaign, "the prime minister has barely met a voter – aside from the Northern Irish manufacturers he addressed in a rambling speech on Thursday evening, during which he appeared to misconstrue his own Brexit deal".

At this early stage in the general election campaign, this is not the image Johnson want to convey, even if it is being projected by his enemies. But, of his fanboys in the Telegraph, even they seem to have given up praising their hero and are now doing the "attack dog" stunt on Corbyn.

And that is how this campaign is panning out. Most definitely, personality politics have taken over, with each side attacking the opposing leaders. Even though Matthew Parris wails in The Times that "voters are turned off by pantomime politics", the actual issues don't stand a chance. Even so, we're still here, and Flexcit is still the best plan in town.

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