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 veteran eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash, a Conservative MP since 1984 who has chaired the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee since 2010.
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.
In 1985/86 when I was first on the European Select Committee and saw the reality of what was an undemocratic system at work. I never believed that it was possible to reform the EU from within because of the centralised legal framework requiring unanimity to change the laws. My views accelerated at the time of Maastricht and I promoted the rebellion because Maastricht created European government, overriding our parliamentary democracy and parliamentary government, by our abdicating our sovereignty, as did the Lisbon Treaty as well. My first sovereignty amendment was on the Single European Act in June 1986, which is now replicated in Section 38 of the European Union Withdrawal Agreement Act. I was not even allowed to debate the issue of sovereignty in June 1986. My opposition to European integration has always been one step at a time. It is about self-government, democracy and sovereignty.
BC: What was your most memorable moment during the referendum campaign?
Hearing the Sunderland result in the early morning.
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?
Nigel Farage in the Oxford Union debate. He believes in proportional representation and I don’t, and I fundamentally disagreed with his ultimatum to the Conservative Party and in standing against us. As for friendships across the political divide, I have always admired the principled Labour members such as Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins and Graham Stringer.
BC: Where were you on referendum night? How did it feel?
I was in my flat after midnight, having been with friends beforehand. I felt we would win because I’ve always trusted the British people and their common sense more than the establishment or the political class.
BC: Did you think then that it would take as long as it has for Brexit to actually happen?
Yes, all constitutional change on this scale takes about twenty years. It has always been a step-by-step process, as for example with the Corn Laws (1846) led by Cobden and Bright (my great-grandfather’s cousin), and the vote for the man in the street in 1867, by Bright, forcing Disraeli into accepting this democracy.
BC: Were there any moments in these last few years since the referendum when you thought the prize could yet be snatched from us?
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I was deeply worried by the sheer undemocratic paralysis in Parliament during the late autumn last year, brought about by MPs reversing their previous votes and a deadlock which could only be undone by a general election. I always believed we would break through and the election of Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party was fundamental to this – and the outcome of the General Election clinched it, endorsing the referendum result by our victory in the General Election.
No I don’t think the landscape will return to type, because Brexit, the referendum vote and the General Election result demonstrated that British voters want to govern themselves, and the Conservative Party wants this and a reintegration on this basis of North and South. The Labour Party’s failure to understand this is why they lost and there is no evidence that they have learned their lessons. Brexit, being about self-government and democracy and sovereignty, is a fundamental reaffirmation of our system of parliamentary government which will last.
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?
That the government of the United Kingdom in future will make its own laws, through the majority of its own elected representatives, in line with the wishes of the British people in general elections. Also, that the Civil Service, the Establishment and the judiciary will regain the confidence to make their own decisions, as we have for centuries, and no longer be subjugated to qualified majority voting of laws made in the Council of Ministers, without even a transcript, and generally speaking by consensus.
This is not a vision. This will be a fact. And will enable us to trade on our own terms throughout the world, where 90% of all future trade will be outside the EU, and where we can trade across the world as we always have for centuries, not only with the European Union (because they need us to trade with them), but also independently with, for example, the United States, the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere, and indeed with all other countries, without our trade policy being determined by the EU. We will regain our democracy and our sovereignty, upon which everything else ultimately depends.
BC: Do you have any special plans for 1st February, our first day outside the EU?
Breathe a deep sigh of relief.
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 by a colleague, of me voting on the Third Reading in the House of Commons of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, as I went through the lobby, putting the seal on the democratic decision to leave the European Union in the elected chamber.