We are joined by Peter Sonnex from the Brexit Party as we discuss the ongoing COVID 19 Lockdown and the Labour Party leadership election results. We then chat with Peter about his experiences in the military and Whitehall along with the “Stockport Declaration” and future plans for the Brexit Party.
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.
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
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!
Our Free Speech event, My tuppenceworth, on Tuesday 19th November gave lots of people the opportunity to speak. One of those speeches came from Peter Sonnex, Brexit Party Candidate for Croydon Central, we have reproduced the text below.
Decency, Democracy, Freedom and Freedoms… These have been hard won, but so easily taken for granted. Easy come, easy go can quickly lead to freedoms being expressed with no thought – the playground stuff – for the consequences and the damage they may do to those very freedoms themselves…
The irony is not lost that we should be aware this evening of our location and that we are in the throes of another Brexit General Election… I shall, of course steer away from party politics in respect for our hosts. After all, I am not a politician!
The poster for this event shows Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, late of the Corps of Royal Engineers – my very own Corps. The appalling waste of blood and treasure aside – if that were ever possible, as we shall never forget – it was his rallying call that galvanised the country’s resolve against tyranny in Europe – standing up for democracy then – as I am now.
[As a young officer, it was Kitchener who was sent to rescue another former Royal Engineer – General Gordon of Khartoum. His plan to build a railway from the Red Sea to Khartoum, thwarted by the hubris of Field Marshal Wolseley who insisted on going up the Nile by boat. I wonder if he used free speech to let him know how he felt…]
Only in my dotage have I really been able to put my own, rather less glorious military career in perspective: In the Falkland Islands defending the democratic will of the Falkland Islanders who had voted overwhelmingly to remain as a United Kingdom Overseas Territory; during the Cold War in Germany, defending our democracy and freedoms against the very real threat of the Warsaw Pact – winning as the Berlin Wall came down – sparking a fire of democracy to burn all the way through Eastern Europe. Long, long tours of the Former Yugoslavia were spent establishing a safe and secure environment for their first democratic elections; my time in Iraq spent establishing a safe and secure environment for – you’ve guessed it – democratic elections. I remain traumatised by our failure as the Occupying Power to deliver on their mandate for democracy and freedom. They do not have what we, the UK as the Occupying Power, promised them – at all…
At home, I find our future lies in the hands of people for whom entitlement is a right not earned and every demand is pandered to no matter the cost for their so-called ‘freedoms’. People who never learned that no means no or that our democracy came and comes at a price: selflessness, fairness, empathy, compassion, compromise, tolerance and respect.
I feel betrayed in my own country as our freedoms are taken away by a wedge of political correctness, a lack of trust and truth in politics, and incompetent legislators. I feel compelled to stand up again for democracy in my own country as our vote – and it is all you and I have – is counted, disrespected and fails to be acted upon.
Londoner Peter Sonnex has been just been announced as the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party in Croydon South.
Peter, an Army Veteran and London bus driver, will contest the constituency in the next general election standing against Conservative Chris Philp MP.
“It is as humbling as it is daunting to be selected as the PPC for Croydon South. The outpouring of local support has been extraordinary for an ordinary chap not used to being thrust into the public eye – but, I am ready – now is the time to stand up for ourselves and our democracy”
Serving in the Falkland Islands, Bosnia Herzegovina, Iraq and elsewhere, Pater is a former Chief of Staff at the Royal School of Military Engineering. Today he drives a double-decker London bus, as part of a glidepath to what was going to be a quiet retirement in Biggin Hill. Peter likes to say as a former bomb disposal officer “if you see me running, do your best to keep up…”
“I am delighted Peter is our Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Croydon South. He brings a wealth of real world leadership experience from some of the most challenging environments as a Veteran, and none too few insights now as a London bus driver. He has been a selfless representative, one way or another, for most of his life; his is ready to represent Croydon South.”
Ben Habib MEP
Keen to support any who puts themselves up in favour of a real Brexit. The Croydon Constitutionalists spoke to Peter to find out about the man who might represent one third of our borough.
Peter thanks for the interview….
You spent many years serving in the army, any good stories from that time?
The enduring service and sacrifice of extraordinary young men and women will stay with me forever. I am still not sure, even in the aftermath of two World Wars, that the public at large really appreciate what it means to send volunteers – very deliberately to this day – into harm’s way in the UK national interest. I am very encouraged by the establishment of a department for Veterans Affairs in Whitehall. Access to housing and healthcare should be genuine priorities for local authorities if we are truly to show we value our Armed Forces and their families.
That’s the serious bit! The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst is where all Army Officers are trained. It is where we learn that we have to Serve to Lead – eating last and looking after the soldiers we are given the privilege to command. Sandhurst is also where the vital sense of humour is honed, led by the Senior Non Commissioned Officers: Pointing animatedly at an officer cadet, an SNCO said, “There is something nasty on the end of my pace stick, sir” – “Not my end, staff” came the cheery, but seriously misjudged reply…!
You’ve been stationed in the Falkland Islands, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Iraq, what surprised you most about each place?
You say stationed when extreme camping may be a better description. As Military Engineers, we may be called upon to build accommodation where there is none for our troops, beginning in the past with the bar! In the Falkland Islands, we began with poncho shelters, pitched tents to be ripped apart in gale force winds, and once we had built weatherproof containerised barracks we moved on to the next windswept wilderness to start all over again.
During 7 months in Iraq in 2003, I spent 3 nights with a roof over my head, albeit in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in Al Basrah. Bosnia and Herzegovina was rather different: feeling like rural southern Germany; a short flight away; and, Europeans like us, but gripped in the most awful tribal conflict. Stark was the absence of rules or proportionality with barbaric inhumanity displayed on all sides. No rules with no predictable response to any given action was hugely unsettling. This was a graphic example of what the absence of democracy, tolerance and respect for the rule of law looks like.
What first got you involved in politics?
I have been largely apolitical for most of my life. If pushed, I have described myself as a social democrat with no natural home to the left of centre. I have really been driven to serve my soldiers, Her Majesty’s Government and the will of Parliament whatever the flavour. I have been deployed on operations under Conservative, Labour and coalition governments. Things unravelled a bit in Iraq in 2003 when I was unconvinced our dogs of war were being unleashed as a last resort. The Foreign Secretary and Minister for International Development had resigned and we were woefully inadequate in fulfilling our obligations to the people of Iraq as the Occupying Power. Please don’t get me going on the Chilcot Inquiry, Public Interest Lawyers and the Iraq Historical Allegations Team… I served as an official in the MOD in Whitehall under Labour, coalition and Conservative Governments with only minor challenges to accommodate principles and party political lines, but there were some…
Really, I am only now engaging with politics because an overly heated and emotional debate over Brexit (what else would divide families) with my son ended with him saying, “so dad, what are you going to do about it?” Well, I could take to the streets with my Guido Fawkes mask – yes, I do own one! Given the Brexit mess, I felt compelled to attend the Brexit Party launch in Coventry and the rally in Birmingham the following day – in part to see what they might be about. I signed up to be a supporter and be considered as an MEP candidate for the EU Parliamentary elections.
My EU application was rolled over into the vetting and interview process for prospective parliamentary candidates. From over 4000 applicants and over 1300 interviews, I was as surprised as anyone to actually pop out the other side as a Brexit Party PPC.
What do you think is next for Brexit?
Well, if I was to trust our political leaders, I would have said the question should be moot. How many times were we told we would be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019? Or, that no deal is better than a bad deal? We are now being told we are leaving on 31 October “do or die, deal or no deal”. There are, I fear, many more painful weeks of political shenanigans to come before any of us actually know what is next. Personally, I think it is further humiliating delay and more chaos only slightly ahead of leaving without a deal. Throw in the prospect of an election and your guess is as good as mine…
Be clear though, if the PM commits to and delivers a clean break Brexit by 31 October, if asked I will step aside as a candidate – putting country before party.
Dealing with a remainer incumbent who voted for the Withdrawal Agreement is another matter, but that will be for Boris and Nigel to figure out…
What are your thoughts on Croydon Politics?
Trust appears to be a whopping issue. Trust in politics and trust in our elected representatives needs to be restored; they serve us, not the other way around. Housing and public transport appear to be ever-present challenges for Croydon. House building numbers hide poor design, small rooms and overdevelopment producing “slums of the future.” Transport links through Croydon South look enviable on a map until you overlay delays and poorly planned and announced engineering works.
I am always going to be on the lookout for exemplary implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant, supporting our Armed Forces and Veterans locally.
What surprised you most about getting actively involved in politics?
It really gets personal, and fast!
It doesn’t look efficient and effective from the outside. It is even less so on the inside… Beyond the restoration of trust, there are plenty of things that require reform – mostly to achieve less government and less politics.
If you introduce or repeal 3 laws (other than for Brexit) what would they be?
As a representative, not a politician – my first duty would be to listen. Then, if I said I was going to do something, I would actually do it. Now wouldn’t that be new! You are pressing me, so. I would look at anything that may be holding back entrepreneurs and wealth creation. We must educate ourselves, train and innovate: it is what made Britain Great!
The corollary is to ensure tax revenues are better distributed to provide a level playing field across the Borough to provide inspirational and aspirational education, first class healthcare, community services, social services and public transport.
Thirdly, there are the emergency services, law and order. We should all enjoy a protected and safe environment – one in which we learn to respect each other and the intervention of authority when necessary.
What do you see as yourparty’s route to electoral success?
Well, who can you trust? I cannot find anyone who doesn’t think we need to change politics for good. The career politicians and the political classes have never been more out of touch. Let’s do something about that. Let’s feel properly represented.
We have incredible prospects as a sovereign, independent nation able to do whatever we want in the national interest in relation to our laws, borders and money. It is in our national interest to be outward looking, reaching out to our European friends and those in the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. It is in our national interest to protect the oppressed and the disadvantaged at home and abroad. The UK Aid budget must be used effectively in the UK national interest.
Any other thoughts you want to leave us with?
I am exhausted, and we aren’t even in campaign mode. But, I am ready! And, I am building a great team.
Peter thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed by us.