I’VE been to a number of Brexit Party events over the past nine months (yes, it’s still less than one year old) and was at the launch of its Contract with the People on Friday. There was a very different feel to this – none of the brio and showmanship which Nigel Farage delivers so well. Instead it was serious, realistic and compelling. The atmosphere was one of ‘brutal realism’ and new radicalism.
The Brexit Party has a contract rather than a manifesto because the latter term has become synonymous with a tissue of lies, often supported by hooky statistics and misleading graphs. The Brexit Party’s election priorities are set out in black and white (only) and you can read them here.
The central pillar of this contract is the determination to achieve a clean break with the EU by the end of 2020, be that by a ‘Super Canada Plus Plus Plus’ trade deal or on WTO terms. Of course, an exit on WTO terms does not preclude a subsequent deal. This is what the Prime Minister has said he will achieve, which is why the Brexit Party is not standing against sitting Tories (who have all now pledged to back Boris’s current deal). Consequently the Brexit Party is standing not to form a national government but to keep the Prime Minister on track to deliver Brexit in 2020. (Never forget that it was the Tory party’s inability to deliver Brexit that landed us in the current mess.)
Having achieved Brexit by 31 December 2020, the country can get on with growing (it’s rather good at that) and the government can implement policies to help.
Its major economic pledge is to invest in the regions. This will be funded by cancelling HS2 (an expensive solution of how to get from Birmingham to London faster – a problem few voters have) and by using the money that would have gone to the EU. This will include £50billion on road and rail updates, delivering free broadband to the entire country, and removing the interest charge from student loans. The party promises to invest heavily in coastal towns which, free of EU fisheries control, should have a chance to regenerate.
There are a couple of striking tax simplifications which will resonate with many people, namely scrapping inheritance tax (which raises under 1 per cent of government revenue) and reforming corporation tax by making the first £10,000 of profit tax free – removing 66 per cent of UK businesses from the corporation tax system. This would delight any entrepreneur who has wrestled his or her way through completing the dreaded form CT600 or paid an accountant to do it (substantially increasing the cost of compliance with the corporation tax requirements).
The contract also confirms that the government will cover agricultural subsidies and academic grants currently provided by the EU (with money from the UK) at the same levels.
On immigration, the Brexit Party sensibly differentiates between those who wish to settle permanently in the UK, which will be cut to the long-term average of 50,000 a year, and those who wish to work in the UK for a while, for which a work permit process will be adopted to ensure that employment needs are met. As regards genuine refugees there is no change: the UK will look after them too, possibly better than we do now.
There is little on defence (not least as there is a major NATO summit in the first week of December). When questioned, Nigel Farage made the point that the UK is about to have to choose whether to focus on NATO and the Five Eyes or work with Europe to build something as powerful. But more of that post summit.
There is also a wider vision. The Brexit Party exists only because of political failure; it is therefore logical that the current political process needs attention. The intention is to introduce some sort of proportionality into voting and scrap the House of Lords. And the BBC will lose its licence fee.
The thrust of the Brexit Party is aimed at the small person versus the big state (which is paid for by the small person’s taxes). The target audience is the 5.4million Labour Leave voters, who probably despise Corbyn but can’t vote Tory. (There are 130 parliamentary seats which have not returned a Tory MP for more than a century.)
Overall the points come across as rational, achievable and sensible. No bombshells, but probably a wider approach than many might have expected.
Interesting times ahead.