“Country Before Party” for Democracy and Brexit
In the books that shall be written about how the United Kingdom became again a self-determined, democratic nation, Nigel Farage will be identified as the sine qua non of Brexit. We forever owe him a great debt of gratitude. Given the importance and nature of his achievement, his likeness in bronze would not be out of place within striking distance of parliament.
When I applied to stand as a candidate for the Brexit Party, then-prime minister May was colluding with a Remainer parliament to thwart the will of the People to leave the EU, and in so doing, to thwart democracy itself. I believed, and still do, that such a reversal of democracy would have had existential consequences for our nation.
At that time, I declared my commitment not only to democracy but also, as a consequence, to replacing our anti-democratic parliament with one that honors the promise made to the British people, repeatedly and by politicians both for and against Brexit, to implement their decision in the EU referendum.
Now, like Nigel Farage, I believe that our country would be better served, and the referendum result better respected, by a clean-break Brexit than by the EU treaty that has recently been negotiated by Boris Johnson.
If the Brexit Party could win a majority at the election to force a clean-break Brexit, all would be well. However, in the absence of that possibility, a Brexit worthy of the name can only ever be secured with a parliamentary majority of MPs who actually want it to happen.
Therefore, for me to do anything that would reduce the likelihood or size of a pro-Brexit majority in parliament after the upcoming general election would be to act against the very principle that led me to stand for the Brexit Party in the first place.
For that reason, for weeks before Nigel’s decision to stand his candidates down in Conservative-held seats, I had been doing my best to explain the danger of the split vote to senior party officials, and reiterated the fact that I would not split the vote in my constituency.
However, unlike other candidates who have been standing down on their own time and without any obvious greater positive political impact, I wanted to turn the political leverage of posing a serious threat to a sitting conservative into something that might inspire the rest of the nation also to do the right thing and to set an example of cross-party cooperation for the greater good.
Many pro-Brexit voters rightly distrust the Conservative Party. We note the party’s many broken promises around Brexit and the fact that Johnson’s treaty is far from ideal. We also note its unwillingness to enter a pact to unify the Leave vote and thus make a parliamentary majority for Leave almost certain.
For that reason, before standing down against my incumbent Conservative opponent in St. Austell and Newquay, Steve Double – a Brexiteer who is likely to win if his vote is not split – I asked him to put his name to a joint statement of principles and priorities that would enable me to stand down against him in the knowledge that doing so would serve the cause of democracy and Brexit.
Its core message was that all candidates and voters – regardless of party – should act (by standing down or voting appropriately) to maximize the parliamentary majority for leaving the EU rather than in any particular party’s interest. In agreeing to put his name to it, Double took a significant political risk.
By last weekend, Double and I had that signed mutual statement ready to go, but at around that time, we were separately briefed (within our respective parties) to hold our fire and wait for a major announcement that might bear on our plans.
The fact that Nigel has made our efforts redundant means that our mutual statement need never be made public. I have no idea whether our efforts influenced Nigel’s decision, but I do know that those at the top of the Brexit Party were made aware of them.
During my conversations with Mr. Double, I have become increasingly confident that standing aside and asking the people of St. Austell and Newquay to support him, and thereby ensure this particular Leave seat doesn’t flip to a Remain seat, is the right thing to do.
Misidentifying a disagreement about how best to proceed on Brexit as a difference of principle, or even as proof of insincerity, has always been to play into the anti-democratic Remainers’ hands.
To jeopardize a parliamentary majority for Brexit because of a disagreement about how to make it happen is to make the perfect the enemy of the good, and to risk snatching defeat from the jaws of what should now be a victory in one of Brexit’s biggest battles, of which there will be more to come.
(For those who know a bit about game theory, thinking you’re playing a finite game when you’re really in an infinite game is the one way to guarantee losing: standing Brexit Party candidates in every constituency across the U.K. would have been to make exactly that catastrophic mistake.)
One last thought. There would have been a bizarre contradiction in a strategy that seeks an alliance to maximize a parliamentary majority for Leave but then says, in the absence of that alliance, that securing that majority should no longer be the priority. In the absence of a Brexit Party government, which not even Nigel Farage has ever been shooting for, we will need every single democratic Brexiteer we can get in parliament to make sure that future negotiations with the EU claw back more of our sovereignty and democracy, and that those who would give those things up never get their hands on power.
As Mr. Double and my statement said: the specifics of the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement won’t matter at all if we return a parliament that isn’t committed to leaving the EU.
I stood up as a Brexit Party candidate to save democracy and secure a proper Brexit. Now, I stand down as a Brexit Party candidate to do the exact same thing.
Good call, Nigel.
Good luck, Mr. Double.
And more importantly, good luck, Britain.