Even before the rumoured new Swiss-style sell out to the European Union, the Conservative Party was already in deeper trouble than it knows. The game of musical chairs in Downing Street may be over for now, but the party is stuck at about 20% in most opinion polls. After twelve years of Tory rule, the only concrete achievement it can point to is that it “got Brexit done”. (In fact, even this claim barely stands up to scrutiny when you take into account the way Northern Ireland has been left in limbo).
So, are we close to another ‘Chequers deal’ surrender, as we saw under Theresa May in 2018? The fierce denials from government ministers and Rishi Sunak in his address to the CBI this week may reassure some, but I'm far from convinced.
The appointment of Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor of the Exchequer on 14 October and the installation of Sunak as Prime Minister 10 days later represent nothing less than a coup. Any belief in a growth-driven strategy, or of encouraging the enterprise of Britain’s millions of small businesses, has died. There can be no more pretence. This government is a high tax, big state, social democrat betrayal of all that the Conservatives have ever stood for. A softening of our relationship with the bully boys of Brussels would be entirely in keeping with its current identity.
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Even before this latest row there was growing disenchantment among Brexit voters at the sheer inertia at government level. Just “getting Brexit done” is nowhere near enough on its own. The majority of Red Wall voters who handed Boris Johnson an 80-seat majority three years ago did so in the expectation that immigration into our country would be reduced. Yet last week the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast net migration at roughly 224,000 in 2023 before holding steady at 205,000 per annum from 2026 onwards. Given the 1.2 million visas that were issued over the course of the last year, the OBR’s figures probably represent the tip of the iceberg.
What has really brought matters into focus, however, is the continued failure to deal with the English Channel emergency. For months, hotels across the country have been filling up at an estimated cost to taxpayers of £7 million every 24 hours – that’s close to £300,000 an hour. There are now 40,000 people being accommodated in this way. Chaos on this level is completely unacceptable, to say nothing of unsustainable.
When British citizens – many of whom are struggling to pay their own bills – see young men from different cultures hanging around in their towns and villages, they feel an understandable sense of confusion and anger at the lack of control shown by the state.The state’s first duty is to protect its own people,a principle that seems to have been shredded without discussion. Most Brexiteers did not vote in 2016 for thousands of people to turn up in the UK uninvited and have public funds lavished on them in this way. Taxpayers want to know what those who claim to be in charge are doing about this.
In recent weeks, a PR campaign has been mounted to lead the public to believe that the government’s relationship with the EU is improving and that a better deal with Northern Ireland is close at hand. And Sunak virtually fawned over President Macron at their recent meeting in Egypt. It can only mean one thing: our position on the EU is slackening. The ultimate consequence of this will be to make it easy for the next Labour government to sign up Britain to the single market again. Brexit in Name Only (BRINO) seems to be on its way.
Many Tory MPs with whom I have spoken are hoping against hope that the party can turn this situation around. Let me save them a lot of trouble: it isn’t going to happen. The Brexiteers and free-marketeers have been reduced to a backbench rump. Sunak, who allegedly voted for Brexit (though was noticeably quiet during the referendum campaign) and Hunt (an out and out Europhile) run the show now.
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All of this means that the conditions for a new insurgency in British politics are ripe. Some polling for the Sunday Telegraph this month asked the question: “Would you be interested in voting for a new Nigel Farage-led party?” It found that 38 per cent of Conservative voters would consider supporting a new party led by me, with 43 per cent of Brexiteers saying the same. The most popular reason for doing so, among 62 per cent of respondents, was that "we need someone to stand up for ordinary British people".
I was flattered by these results, but there's one thing I want to make clear. I was the founder of Reform UK, a political party that came directly from the Brexit Party. Over the course of the last few weeks, thousands of former Conservatives have joined Reform UK and paid their subscriptions. The party’s poll ratings have climbed as high as 9% recently, putting it above the Liberal Democrats. As honorary president of Reform UK, I communicate regularly with its leader, Richard Tice, and have been kept up to date with his preparations to field a full slate of candidates at the next general election. I can confirm that there will be no more deals, no more standing aside. The Conservative Party needs to understand just how many people in this country now believe that it is the problem and not the solution. Public trust has been frittered away.
Inevitably, some will cry: “But all you will do is let Labour in.” My answer is simple: so what?
Whether I take a more active role in Reform UK in future will depend on the extent of the betrayal of Brexit. But at the risk of stating the obvious, I didn't spend 25 years of my life battling to secure a seemingly hopeless cause only to watch Jeremy Hunt give it away.