It was back in the late 1990s that a colleague of mine informed me of the impending demise of British Standards. What nonsense I thought, as only a madman (Tony Blair) would allow our country to lose one of its best trademarks. We were still digesting the EU’s Working Time Directive (WTD) along with a myriad of other EU-forced regulation when it became clear that our British Standards were to no longer be maintained by the British Standards Institute.
Despite our best efforts to resist the untold damage all these changes would mean for British businesses, our protestations fell on deaf ears. Indeed, the most common phrase from government departments was: “Nothing we can do about it, it’s the EU rules”. One wondered what on earth the point was of us maintaining our powerless politicians, as they hid behind the veil of EU protectionism.
It was at this time that I started to fight back.
Those early days were difficult, for a few of us it felt like everything was against us, it was like trying to get a locomotive moving and we were but a grain of sand on the track.
In the mid-2000s I had built up a relationship with Open Europe who were the only outfit I knew that shared many of the misgivings I had over bad Directives and Regulations – in particular the EU’s drive to remove the UK from the opt-out that would have finished off much of British businesses which were already reeling at the volume of useless regulatory paperwork that added little or no value, but inhibited innovation and held British businesses back.
The British Constructional Steelwork Association and I knew how damaging this would be for all, so we started an awareness campaign and asked companies to poll their workforce. The CBI were concerned too and supported our fightback over the WTD and the opt-out.
In 2008 the then shadow minister for Europe (Mark Francois) read out in Parliament the results of our survey. A staggering 90% of employees polled in the steel manufacturing industry did not want the WTD opt-out to be removed. We had some success and it got it kicked into the long grass, but it was to come back – I was fast learning more about the EU and its ways. It was clear to me that “No” was not a word they would ever accept. A few more grains of sand were on the track.
In 2012 the CBI asked if I would go to Brussels and speak on their behalf at an EU conference as the issue of the opt-out was back on the table as far as the EU was concerned. I went and did my best and to my surprise, my case seemed to resonate with just about everyone. The EU official asked me to stay for lunch so that we could talk more. I explained that I ran a business and that I was needed back at work: I could ill afford the time that big business and multinationals could. I was more than happy to leave as everyone headed for a lavish luncheon at the taxpayers’ expense.
Over the next two years I continued my fight against the damaging bureaucracy and while I had the support of my work colleagues, family and friends, I started to feel more alone in the struggle. However, I felt that I had to continue, despite the difficulties and more or less everyone in power being against me. This fight was not just for me, my company and its people, but for all of us; we needed change.
Then in 2014 Allie Renison from the Institute of Directors (IoD) asked if I would form part of an IoD delegation to Brussels. I welcomed the chance as their programme would bring me in touch with some major players. I saw an opportunity to make my case for change.
I headed to Brussels in my shiny new suit and shoes (trying my best to look official). I had several meetings with Commissioners, MEPs and our then UK Commissioner Lord Hill. I also had a meeting with Frans Timmermans’ deputy (the office for better regulation).
Despite my best efforts and almost everyone agreeing with my points, it seemed impossible to get change. Even Timmermans’ deputy said: “We need people like you to tell us where we have got it wrong”. Well I did, it wasn’t just about reducing future red tape, but going back over the pointless protectionist bad Directives and Regulations that the EU had imposed on the people.
It made no difference and even Lord Hill had nothing much to offer in defence of the burden the EU was causing us. But never mind, we (annoying people) would be on our way back home soon and they could continue with their lavish dinners, safe in the knowledge that simple people like me could do nothing about it. That’s what it felt like.
After three days in Brussels I returned with sore feet (new shoes) and feeling somewhat deflated. My friend and staunch Eurosceptic Rollo Reid (a UKIP man) placed a note on my desk with the letterhead Business for Britain (BfB) and said why not try these people?
I thought OK, I’ll give these people a go and attended a meeting soon after in a cosy office in Westminster. There I met a Matthew Elliott. As the meeting went on, I discovered that they knew quite a lot and that the “Change, or go” drive was in complete alignment with everything I had been trying to do. I just had not put much focus on the go part as I had been working hard to try and get change.
I left that first meeting feeling less alone and, to be honest, a little in awe of the brain power of Matthew and his colleagues; after all, I was just an ordinary person and I wondered what more I was capable of offering. I had a business to run and 130 employees who needed and relied on me to do my job. I did however think that there was the potential for a bucket of sand here and that we could get something moving.
Some time later I was invited to another meeting in London and this time to meet a highly respected ex-minister who astonished me by agreeing with everything I had being saying for years about the damage being done to our country as a result of our membership of the EU.
Something felt like it was going to move now – ever so slowly, but movement had started. David Cameron won the election and, thanks to pressure from Nigel Farage, he had committed to a referendum and another meeting was being held to discuss what BfB should do. As well as Matthew, this time a Dominic Cummings was there too. I thought it a bit odd as Matthew was smartly dressed and Dominic looked like he had just finished chilling out with the boys!
At the meeting that same politician informed us of the likely date of a referendum (one hadn’t even been called yet): he said it would be in June 2016. We needed to start preparing ourselves for the campaign that was soon to come. Matthew asked me if I would take on the role of Chairman for the South West region. I said I would do all I could, but that I could not commit due to the pressures of running a business.
I returned home and soon afterwards I was named Chairman of BfB for the South West region!
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I took on what I could do and found myself thrust into the media machine (a frightening experience). Not only did I have to take that on, but as BfB became part of Vote Leave, I found myself speaking at events all over the place and alongside some formidable opponents. However, as time went on, I became comfortable as I didn’t have to do a brief, I knew the facts and stuck to the truth.
As the battle for Brexit went into full swing, Boris Johnson visited the company in his big red bus. Our factory was full of employees and people from other businesses who wanted to hear what he had to say. He was inspiring and had the feel of the people that were there.
As the campaign went on, I was visiting a construction site in Rotherham (one of many visits to sites across the country) and I always took the opportunity to see what others felt about our membership of the EU. The word on the ground was: “Let’s get out of it” (Note: quote modified to remove inappropriate language).
Then came my biggest low point: the horrific murder of an MP who was going about her daily work. It took the wind right out of my sails and I did nothing for the next few days, I just couldn’t, I felt sick at what had happened.
Despite this tragedy, I eventually got back into the final stages of the campaign and still the feeling on the ground remained strong. I remember some Vote Leave supporters were really starting to get worried that we might not do it; I told them that the feel on the ground was that we would do it.
All night I sat up watching the results coming in. Never satisfied with my selected channel, I flicked from the BBC to Sky to ITV and back through the night. We won, despite everything the state, the CBI, the so-called experts, politicians and some Remain-focused celebrities threw at us.
I was full of optimism for the future for our country, its people and our businesses that had been held back for so long. We could now end the seepage of manufacturing out of our country and take back control of our standards in the interests of our people.
I remember sitting in Matthew Elliott’s office looking out over the Thames towards Parliament a month or so after the referendum result. It had still not fully sunk in, but I was so proud that what I had put into it, that grain of sand, had – with the help of many other people – brought about the biggest positive change for our great nation.
I could relax now – no more radio broadcasts or newspaper reporters and Japanese film crews following me to record my progress. No more French, German and Italian media and no more Sky or BBC (who often frustratingly edited the piece to suit their agenda). The reporters were all decent to me and respected the business case I put but, in some cases, it was another story when it came to the final edit. Yes, it would be a great relief now that Brexit was settled, I could now focus on the running of the business.
Well I got that wrong!
Soon after the much-heralded Theresa May Lancaster House speech the back-sliding began and I found myself searching out the key people to work with to prevent the biggest ever political betrayal of the British people.
BrexitCentral and Leave Means Leave became crucial; BrexitCentral became the go-to website for honesty and clarity. The democracy deniers were in full swing. That included the familiar faces of the Remain campaign and, as before, the odds were stacked against us.
Leave Means Leave started the process of pulling the people together for the fight to protect our democracy. Aided by several significant other Leave organisations, we grew in strength. For me, the stress levels shot up, along with the media enquiries as the establishment sensed blood.
Largely, and like a lot of other people, I had to campaign alone, visiting London regularly to seek help and support and to give the same whenever it was needed. I built up a network of people with real integrity and a steely resolve to push back against everything that was being done to try and discredit good people and destroy us.
There are too many great people to mention them all (you all know who you are) but they were true champions of the people and they helped me so much.
As the historic moment of our departure finally arrives, three and half years on from the referendum, it is a time for celebration, but also a time to recognise that there is still plenty to do in the coming months.
The bulk of the pressure will now be on our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Prime Minister, if you have had the time to read this piece, please remember that we need give nothing away for the sake of negotiation.
Perhaps I can now relax safe in the knowledge that the task is in the very capable hands of Boris, who will get the job done with the support of those valiant individuals, in and out of politics, who have stood up to represent the people of this great country.
The post We told the EU if they didn’t change, we’d go; they wouldn’t change – which is why we’re going appeared first on BrexitCentral.