This is the second part of Kathy Gyngell’s interview with Brexiteer Tory MP Mark Francois. The first part was published yesterday.
Kathy Gyngell: What is more important, what is the prime objective of a new leader? To ensure we leave the EU or something that they were all talking about at the Future of the Conservative Party event with Liz Truss – a very lacklustre affair, let me tell you – where they said a new leader’s prime objective was to reunite the party. Because it seems to me they had it the wrong way round.
Mark Francois: Look, I’ve got a lot of time for Liz, but she’s not going to be the prime minister. I’m pretty certain of that. So, whoever becomes the prime minister must lead us out of the European Union. Look, if we’ve got to fight a Brexit party, there’s only one way, at the end of the day, to defeat a Brexit party. And that’s to deliver a real and honest genuine Brexit, not some con like the Withdrawal Agreement. In a ComRes poll this weekend just gone, 63 per cent of the public, almost two thirds, said they now want to leave the European Union as soon as possible, even with no deal. So the public have made it absolutely plain, they just want to get out.
KG: But you’re, despite your clear and trenchant views, with which I have every sympathy and I’m sure reflect public opinion, regarded certainly by the mainstream media, as marginal. If not Right-wing, if not extremist . . .
MF: Well, no, look . . . look . . .
KG: I’m only putting it to you. I’m not saying that’s right.
MF: I’ve had this again and again in media interviews. Usually, though not exclusively, with interviewers from the BBC. And I’ve been told I am an extremist. To which I usually reply, ‘And then so presumably are 17.4million British people.’ Because all I want to do – here’s my crime, right? I want to keep a promise to 17.4million people. I want to leave the European Union. I don’t want to conquer the world. I just want us to leave the European Union, live in a free, democratic country that elects its own government and makes its own laws. What’s wicked about that?
KG: How then can you explain that people in your own party are using those terms to smear . . . whether it’s you, or whether it’s the Brexit Party or whether it’s Nigel Farage . . .
MF: Look, I’ve been going through this now for several years, okay? I’ve been called an ext . . . you know, those of us in the ERG . . .
KG: But your own party. Philip Hammond calling people ‘far-Right populists’.
MF: Well, hang on . . .
KG: How can you be in a party with people behaving like that and doing that sort of smearing?
MF: Well, I believe I’ve got the party’s members, okay, 72 per cent in the Con Home poll, said they wanted to leave as soon as possible, even with no deal. Right? So I think I’m representative of the vast bulk of . . .
KG: Yes, but I’m getting at something else.
MF: Well, hang on, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I’ve being called an extremist by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I and my friends in the ERG. We’ve been called vermin by Chris Patten, right. We’ve been called neo-Nazis, in effect, by the Today programme, by Jim Naughtie. And Donald Tusk has sent us all to hell. So if I were worried about being called naughty names, I would have packed this in years ago. But the thing that keeps me going, above anything else, is that the British people in the end will win. They elect the politicians. The politicians don’t elect the people. They are the bosses. We report to them. They don’t report to us. And so, at the end of the day, this has morphed, it’s evolved from just Leave versus Remain into the people versus the establishment. And the people will win. And on Thursday [yesterday], the cosy, sanctimonious, liberal self-satisfied, smug British establishment is going to get the shock of its life.
KG: The point I’m making is not an attack on you. The point I’m making is: some of that smug, liberal establishment who seem to be terrified of the Left, defer to the Left, do anything to placate the Left, even if it means smearing their own colleagues. They are in your parliamentary party.
MF: Well, at the end of the day, every Member of Parliament, of whatever political party, has the privilege – and it is a privilege, for all its pressures – of serving in the House of Commons at the gift of their electors. They choose us. Under the Bill of Rights, I can go into the House of Commons and say literally anything. And I’m legally protected, because I have been chosen. I have been elected to be a Member of Parliament. You know, Benjamin Disraeli said the greatest opportunity that could ever be offered to an Englishman is a seat in the House of Commons, and he was right. So, those people at some point will have to be re-elected or stand for re-election and people will look at their record and they will then judge whether or not they want them to continue to represent them in the House of Commons. Now, the Prime Minister wrote to us all, I think, from memory, in the run up to MV3, I think, but around that time anyway. And in the letter, she used the phrase, ‘We will all be judged at the bar of history’, or words to that effect. I am happy to be so judged and so will all my colleagues. And then we will see what the electorate decide. That is called democracy and that’s what this whole thing is about and always has been.
KG: And the electorate of course may decide for a Brexit party.
MF: Well, the electorate will vote as they see fit. It’s their right. I voted Conservative, but on Thursday night, unless the bookies are massively way off, and they’re not normally, the Brexit Party are going to win handsomely. And the Tory party is going to have a bloody awful night, to use language that someone might use in the party. And then either my colleagues will learn from that, or they won’t. And if we don’t, we’re finished. But I believe we will learn from that. And I believe with a proper Brexiteer prime minister, who wants to implement the decision that the British people came to, we can recover from this, but I do believe that what will happen on Thursday is a tsunami. And I do believe that, in some ways at least, British politics will never, ever be the same again.
KG: It’s a good point to finish the interview on. But one more question. Has it never crossed your mind at all that you might feel like defecting to the Brexit Party?
KG: Never crossed your mind. Finally, are you a social conservative or a social liberal?
MF: I’m a conservative. I’m not . . . really a liberal. I’m a conservative.
KG: And do you think that immigration has been knocked off the agenda, to speak, because the Conservatives are so terrified of the left that they can’t even talk about the fact that there are 70,000 asylum seekers every year and that last year, and it looks like carrying on, 285k net migration, which is clearly very difficult for hospitals, schools, housing, all the rest of it. That is the party that you’re in. Are you going to be trying to address that?
MF: Well, I think controlling immigration to a sensible level is good economically. And it also makes for good race relations. I actually think that despite all the challenges we’ve got, if you look at, say, the Turkish problem they’ve got in Germany or the North African problem that they’ve got in Italy for instance, in relative terms I think, you know, by and large people in the UK from different cultures sort of rub along reasonably well together. But I think if we had uncontrolled immigration, I think there’s a risk that that would no longer be the case. So I think it’s . . . you want to talk about immigration, because if you don’t there are some very dark people who will come out of the woodwork and dominate the conversation, if you’re not brave enough to talk about it.
KG: And are you confident about your own party’s immigration policies?
MF: Well, the Prime Minister, to be fair, has always taken a tough line on immigration. She hasn’t taken a very tough line on very much else, but she has always taken a tough line on that.
KG: Right. Okay. So we still have immigration in the hundreds of thousands.
MF: Yes, but you know, I’m trying to be as fair as I can, so . . .
KG: And there’s no time to go into the White Paper, we might do that another time, but thank you very much.
MF: My pleasure.