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 John Longworth, who was Chairman of the Vote Leave Business Council and in 2019 became an MEP.
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.
I became a Eurosceptic as a young Executive seconded to Mrs Thatcher’s Deregulation Task Force back in the day and being intimately involved in the Single Market programme. Like many, we became used to the EU in all its absurdities and there appeared to be little prospect of change. The impending referendum afforded that opportunity and I began to prepare to make an impact in favour of liberty a year prior to David Cameron returning with his piece of paper.
BC: What was your most memorable moment during the referendum campaign?
I particularly remember the wall of horror from No. 10 and the Remain establishment and the sheer joy of the Leave campaign when I made my speech in front of all the media at the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference indicating my view that we could do well leaving the EU. This bust the myth that business was against leaving and that the economic arguments were all in favour of Remain.
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?
On the day of the BCC conference, the first person to congratulate me on my speech and say how much he agreed with me was Jeremy Corbyn.
In a different league, it was great to have as an ally John Mills of Labour Leave and a whole range of business owners in the Vote Leave Business Council.
The most amusing allies were the cameramen and technicians at BBC Millbank who would give me the thumbs up while on air as they stood behind their Remainer presenters. I could barely keep myself from laughing. More than one of them said in private that the presenters and producers think everyone is a Remainer, yet they had no idea that all the crew were voting Leave.
BC: Where were you on referendum night? How did it feel?
I started the night at the IEA, spent the results time with City boys in a lock-in at Leadenhall Market – the quants called it right after result number 2 – and ended the night at 5am back with Mark Littlewood at the IEA.
BC: Did you think then that it would take as long as it has for Brexit to actually happen?
I never dreamt it would take another three years and counting, although unlike many others, I was convinced that the establishment would not give up and therefore I did not give up, initially hoping Vote Leave would re-form and then establishing Leave Means Leave. I gave up a further three years of my life, I have to say at some personal cost.
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BC: Were there any moments in these last few years since the referendum when you thought the prize could yet be snatched from us?
After the failure of the ERG to unseat Hammond and May and when it was clear that the Remain establishment were quite prepared to ignore Leave Means Leave, following the March to Leave in March 2019, I began to despair that Brexit was lost. The only concern of a Remain Parliament was keeping their jobs, so removed from reality were they that even the threat of losing their seats was lost to them. The opportunity of a further plebiscite via the EU elections was heaven sent, which is why I volunteered to run as an MEP. It swept away the Hammond/May administration and swept Johnson to power. Everything changed. The General Election sealed it.
Johnson could preside over a three-term premiership but it absolutely depends on lasting change. If this new administration delivers radical change to the way the country is run, to Whitehall, the balance between the regions and London, between manufacturing and financial services, between cities and towns – if it does all this and delivers on the economic promise of Brexit and a truly independent Britain, then the political landscape will reinforce our two-party system. If it does not, the genie is out of the bottle and there will be mass disillusion and discontent which could lead anywhere including to the far left or the far right.
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?
Repatriated EU financial contribution used to provide world class infrastructure, including digital and in the regions; unilateral judicious and phased removal of external tariffs to boost the economy and control inflation; managed migration preferably via economic instruments; trade arrangements to be sought around the world; a properly managed currency to boost manufacturing; better regulation; a reformed and improved Whitehall; a truly independent foreign and defence policy, not slavishly aligned to any other power; a reconnection with the Commonwealth, in particular giving preference to countries which share the same head of state.
BC: Do you have any special plans for 1st February, our first day outside the EU?
I am taking dry January through to Lent. Observed in the breach, the last week in January was a luxury skiing holiday now largely to be sacrificed in order to vote in the Brussels Parliament for Boris’s Withdrawal Agreement. I shall be celebrating on the 31st January in London and sleeping in on 1st February.
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, when I and fellow Brexit Party MEPs Annunziata Rees-Mogg, Lance Forman and Lucy Harris announced our backing for the Conservatives at the December 2019 General Election in order for Brexit to be delivered.