With the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland all but certain to leave the various clutches of the EU and its institutions on the 31st of December 2020 (after some false starts), Peter Sonnex – Parliamentary Candidate for the Brexit Party in Croydon South, then Croydon Central – reflects on the Brexit Party, his role in the 2019 General Election and the future. Is that Brexit done, then?
As a veteran, definitely not a politician, I was involved in politics for the first time to achieve an effect: delivery on the result of the 2016 Referendum; the UK becoming, once again, a self-governing, independent coastal nation; and, setting the conditions for wider political reform. I am proud of what we achieved. I remain humbled by the selfless support of a team of volunteers, coming from all walks of life and political persuasions, who committed themselves in all weathers to the causes of upholding our democracy and restoring trust in our institutions. We got it done!
My wife, Lesley, was the greatest supporter. Without question she walked more miles, delivered more leaflets, stood on more street stalls and, as my election agent, went through the nomination process twice as I stood first in Croydon South, then Croydon Central. My debt of gratitude, as with my carbon footprint, is irredeemable.
My campaign manager, “Chris”, provided energy and challenge in equal measure. His experience, local knowledge and drive for justice as much as political reform were invaluable. It is a sad reflection of politics, with its unnecessarily toxic environment for those who choose to get involved, that “Chris” will be known only as “Chris”.
Some wailing about ‘splitting the vote’, the very odd expletive when canvassing and petty online trolling aside – I enjoyed the election experience; from being energised by political rallies, the overwhelmingly positive reception on the fabled “doorstep”, street stalls, hustings, leafleting, social media interactions to media opportunities – all mysteries hitherto. Even without the prospect of electoral success, save for any seismic national factor which didn’t materialise, I was compelled to take part. I felt it was important enough to provide a voice and a candidate on the burning issues of the day. More than I could have hoped for, I was marginalised (some may say, brilliantly) by the Conservative Party campaign as they necessarily and increasingly took up the rhetoric, focus, determination and manifesto (Contract) of the Brexit Party and Nigel Farage.
Listening to Croydon’s Chris Philp MP and Councillor Mario Creatura change their tune on the EU in the interests of capturing the electorate and for their party to exist at all, let alone remain in power, was as enlightening about politics as it was – a sad reflection on me – amusing. Sorry…
Strategically, I think there were four elements to the (even now barely a year old) Brexit Party achieving its effect:
- Winning the 23 May 2019 election to the EU Parliament, especially in the Labour Party heartlands of the North East and the North West (the so-called Red Wall). Labour had been found wanting among the five million Labour Party supporters who had voted to leave the EU. This became key in winning support for the Conservative Party who promised to “Get Brexit Done!”
- Failure, thank goodness, at getting Theresa May’s Chequers-launched withdrawal agreement through parliament, combined with the EU election result, led to a change of PM and a new cabinet;
- The Brexit Party standing up over 600 credible prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) on the 4th of November 2019 provided an existential threat to the Conservative Party. Even the Evening Standard was forced to headline that day with “Nigel Farage pushes Tory general election campaign off track” (as ministers plead [with] him to withdraw Brexit Party Candidates); and,
- The unilateral decision on the 11th of November, just a week later, to stand down 317 Brexit Party PPCs* so as not to risk either a hung parliament, a second EU referendum or a referendum on Scottish independence.
[*The strict rule of not standing in a seat with a Conservative hold or win in the 2017 General Election was not without criticism (understatement). It did not account for seats where ‘remainer’ Conservatives had joined other parties or where they had retired or otherwise stood down. A great deal of talent and political goodwill/horsepower was lost or disenfranchised as a result.]
That said, operationally on Brexit, there is still a long way to go… Much remains to be resolved. We should be most wary of the following during the transition period:
- Our contingent liability to the European Investment Bank (EIB). After joining the EU, the UK became a member of the EIB, with a 16% capital share. The UK has contributed over €3.5bn and has over €35.4bn of ‘callable capital’. ‘Callable capital’ is a contingent liability, i.e. money which the UK would be obliged to pay if the EIB suffered losses it was unable to cover using its accumulated reserves. As shareholders in the European Central Bank (ECB), our contingent liabilities could be as high as €200-400bn – who knows…;
- The wedge hammered into our Union (in relation to NI) by continued ‘dynamic alignment’;
- Existing commitment or further consideration (as required in the Political Declaration, given legal effect in the Withdrawal Agreement) of integration in military Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), similar to NATO, as part of the EU’s security and defence policy (CSDP) over normal bilateral cooperation as necessary in the national interest;
- Fragility of the Eurozone economies;
- Fragility of EU cohesion amid, among other things, high EU youth unemployment; and,
- Challenges on the Greece-Turkey border as we speak!
These topics, with the government’s approach to control of our territorial waters, are being monitored by legacy Brexit Party MEPs and supporters as part of a Brexit Barometer. We are not going away until Brexit is truly done.
I am no cheerleader for the Conservative Party, but…
Nationally, I think we can be heartened by the government’s opening approaches to Brexit negotiations. The sticking points at the end of the first week are those relating to our independence: withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights; the role of the European Court of Justice; the maintenance of a level playing field for UK and EU businesses; and, conditions on future access for EU fishing fleets to UK waters. The EU may just be realising any final deal has to respect that the UK shall be independent of its institutional orbit, laws and courts.
I think we can be encouraged by the government’s intention to honour manifesto pledges on immigration and infrastructure investment. It is good to see the spotlights falling on the House of Lords and the BBC. Our government and institutions must be held to account for what they promise, do and say in our name. Whatever they do, they cannot be institutionally dishonest, biased, unaccountable or wasteful.
I think we can be buoyed by the government’s handling of the recent flooding and the ongoing Covid-19 Coronavirus outbreak. History will tell… Would a Labour Party in government have done any better?
The gulf between provision in the NHS and in social care remains to be addressed, and we are watching here, too. We are keen to see enduring cross-party approaches and consensus removing health and social care as perennial political footballs. No political party owns our NHS.
We are in a complete pickle over free speech as debate, even the truth, is shut down by either cancelling an opposing view or legislating against it. I see light in the topic of free speech being discussed more often and more openly. It requires as much education as it does leadership and example. But please, no more legislation to appease sensitivities…
As a teacher, leader and example, how good a PM is Boris Johnson? We don’t know yet. On the evidence, he remains ambiguous, past and present, on so many issues, including on those relating to the EU. He is utterly unambiguous though on power as it relates to his party being the party of government. The lesson learned in our democracy is to listen to the people. In particular he is and needs to keep listening to those who lent their votes in order to uphold our democracy and get Brexit done!
Locally, we have a failing Mayor of London hiding in plain sight. On knife crime and housing alone he can only be found wanting. And yet, on a typically low turnout he is most likely to be re-elected to deliver more of the same in the face of no credible opposition candidate. It hurts that earlier this year, the Brexit Party chose not to engage in the Mayoral, GLA and local elections. Voices for an electorate looking at slates of least-worst options have been denied. Democracy, eh?
Closer to home, we see the usual partisan Punch and Judy show that is the Croydon Borough Council. What a revelation it would be to see councillors united in their approach to knife crime, development, housing and reform solely in the Borough residents’ interest, and for the long term. For Croydon, I really do hope for a democratically elected mayor to be empowered to deliver for everyone and be held to account by the borough as a whole. DEMOC – now, let’s get that done!
You can read more from Peter in his interview with us from before the election – http://croydonconstitutionalists.uk/interview-with-peter-sonnex-brexit-party-prospective-parliamentary-candidate-in-croydon-south/.
Peter also spoke at our ‘My Tuppenceworth’ in 2019 about Decency, Democracy, Freedom and Freedoms, with the speech at –http://croydonconstitutionalists.uk/decency-democracy-freedom-and-freedoms-my-tuppenceworth-speech/
You can meet Peter at our Leavers of Croydon Drinks in New Addington on Saturday 21st March 2020 – http://croydonconstitutionalists.uk/leavers-of-croydon-drinks-new-addington/
Finally Peter can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/SonnexPeter