Here is the latest in our series reflecting on the Brexit process with regular BrexitCentral authors and others who have played an important role in our journey out of the European Union. Here are the answers to our questions from Suella Braverman, who chaired the European Research Group before being appointed a Brexit Minister, but resigned from the Government in opposition to Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
BC: When did you first come to the view that the UK would be better off out of the EU? Did you ever think that the EU could be reformed from within to make membership tolerable for the UK? Tell us how your views developed over time on the issue.
For many years, I considered myself a Europhile: I come from a Francophonic family, I speak French, I have French relatives, and lived and studied there for 2 years. Similarly with Spanish. I never questioned our membership of the EU until my work as a Barrister gradually opened my eyes to the ill-fitting dominance of EU law in our judicial system and over our lives. Then commenced my doubts about the EU. When I was elected to Parliament in 2015, I supported a renegotiated settlement and ‘fundamental change’ assuming that David Cameron would achieve this. In February 2016, after his renegotiation, I suddenly realised that fundamental change was impossible and felt sorely disappointed with the new terms presented to us. It was difficult to see how even minimal sovereignty could be restored to the UK. I found myself with no option but to support leaving the European Union. I felt that to do otherwise would have been to mislead the people of Fareham who elected me on a promise of fundamental change.
BC: What was your most memorable moment during the referendum campaign?
I was invited to my alma mater, Queens’ College, Cambridge to debate Brexit against another alumnus, Stephen Kinnock. It was a fiery debate with Old Hall packed with students. After energetically making the case for leave, and while everyone was clearing up, one of my former Law Tutors approached, in despair and shaking his head with disbelief, and asked me: ‘Where did I go wrong?’
BC: Who was the most unlikely ally you campaigned with or shared a platform with during the referendum? Did you strike up any unexpected new friendships across traditional political divides?
I was delighted to get to know the former Labour MP and Minister, Gisela Stuart during the Leave Campaign and afterwards. I’ve always been impressed with her courage to challenge her party on this subject and express her views about the EU so powerfully. Her friendliness, encouragement and expertise are second to none. She made an indelible mark on the campaign.
BC: Where were you on referendum night? How did it feel?
I was at the Count in Fareham, my constituency, with Fareham Conservatives. I was almost 100% sure that we would lose and that we would all go back to way things had been fairly quickly afterwards. I simply could not believe the results as they started to come in from around the country, and indeed was surprised to see that Fareham voted to leave. I felt a deepened reverence for the British people and their chutzpah, for democracy and a real love of my country that morning.
BC: Did you think then that it would take as long as it has for Brexit to actually happen?
I voted for Brexit in the acceptance that it would be a very complex and difficult process for our country. That was outweighed by my innate belief in the capacity of our institutions and nation to ultimately deliver democracy. As a Brexit Minister, I saw the complexity of our withdrawal and how, without strong leadership, our Civil Service were unable to deliver it. Whilst I have been shocked by how some politicians broke promises and arrogantly refused to accept the result, I fully anticipated it to take a long time and to be burdensome.
BC: Were there any moments in these last few years since the referendum when you thought the prize could yet be snatched from us?
In Autumn 2016, I joined the ERG because I was concerned that Project Fear was still the prevailing view within the Establishment and the media. I realised then that, although we had won the referendum in the country, we had not won the argument ‘inside the machine’. The campaign had to continue and I was honoured to chair the ERG later in 2017.
Brexit on Amazon
Voting against the deal at MV3 was the hardest decision I have made in my professional life. I was sincerely torn: do I change my mind even though the deal over which I resigned remains unaltered? Or do I stand by what I know to be true: that the deal did not deliver Brexit- putting me at odds with many of my parliamentary colleagues, exposing me to accusations of extremism and disloyalty? Do I choose country or do I choose party? In the end, I sided with country because I believed that Brexit would ultimately happen, somehow and some day. The call for change was too loud- albeit outside the Westminster Elite bubble. Brexit reflects a desire for freedom, born out of legitimacy and integrity, deriving from a noble aspiration for sovereignty. And with the UK a beacon of justice, a symbol of fair play and the home of democracy, I knew that, even though it might be incredibly trying and later than planned, our country would not fail.
Brexit will fundamentally change British and European politics. Not only has our democracy already been reinvigorated by the process (with many more people taking an active interest in Government, power and how our country is run) but as we begin a new chapter of our history outside the EU and as a self-governing nation, many more people will gradually see and feel the effects of Brexit: whether on trade opportunities, effects on migration, regulations in the workplace or how UK judges will have the final say, not Luxembourg. This will boost our national confidence and unleash the untapped potential of Britain to go from strength to strength.
Having visited Brussels and met with Michel Barnier’s team to discuss Alternative Arrangements (the Prosperity UK Commission on Alternative Arrangements which I co-chaired in 2019 with Greg Hands), I saw that our European counterparts, whilst regretful about Brexit, have now accepted it and want to move on. The wise response from the EU will be to reform its structures and mission if it wishes to survive.
BC: What changes do you want/hope to see made now that the UK has taken back control? Can you summarise your vision for Brexit Britain?
I hope that we regain our national confidence and that we see this new chapter of our future as a natural evolution in our democratic history: starting with Magna Carta, to creating parliamentary democracy, leading the industrial revolution or the fight against slavery and protectionism, the British genius for democracy has been a constant theme in our story. Brexit is simply the next chapter and will make our society fairer and more prosperous. I am most optimistic about the trade opportunities and benefits for UK manufacturers and exporters who will be able to expand their markets beyond the stagnating Eurozone. As someone with Commonwealth heritage, I hope that Britain uses Brexit to play an enhanced global role through trade and other co-operation with the rest of the world. Representing a coastal constituency, I am hopeful that our fishermen will finally regain dignity and security as we bring an end to the CFP. Of course, restoring legal supremacy to our so-called Supreme Court will finally be welcome.
BC: Do you have any special plans for 1st February, our first day outside the EU?
Basking in the warm glow of a sunny future ahead!
BC: Do you have a favourite photo of yourself from the Brexit process? If so, please share it and give us the context for it.
As above, taken during the referendum campaign in Fareham Town Centre in May 2016. Deciding to vote to leave the EU in 2016 was not an easy decision for me. As a new MP, I found it hard to take an opposing view to the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. As well as my experience as a lawyer, above all, it was the views of the decent, patriotic, fair-minded people in Fareham that persuaded me to back Brexit. And it was for them that I made all of my subsequent decisions relating to Brexit.