Brexit has dominated UK politics and news for the last three years to the absolute exclusion of all else.
There is a large focus on the whirl of the everyday ups and downs of the process. Following Brexit now sometimes feels like a sporting event – wins and losses pile up, each confrontation billed as bigger than the last, but no side truly ever vanquishes. While this has gone on, campaigns have been set up on both sides to push their viewpoint in a perpetual clash. Richard Tice is the chairman of one of these organisations – The Brexit Party. However, when interviewing him on the 20th October at the Cambridge Union, I want to avoid asking too much about Brexit itself – it is fairly obvious where he stands – and instead, shine a light on his organisation itself.
Of course, I cannot help myself completely and begin by asking him about his view on Johnson’s Deal, which at time of writing is about to be debated in the House of Commons. He had previously described it as “not a real Brexit” and replies that he wants “a clean break Brexit. The problem with Johnson’s deal is that it is basically a tweaked and twisted rehash of Theresa May’s worst deal in history. We would still be tied into the level playing field.” What would be the type of deal that he would want? “A clean break deal” that “allows Britain to grow faster than its competitors”.
The crucial question is, of course, would this have won in the 2016 referendum? Tice is adamant on this point. “Yes”. He continues, “On the table in 2016 was Leave versus Remain. We said we wanted a free trade deal”. But does he not want to check that the public wants this? “We don’t need to check. The Public voted for Leave”.
Moving on from Brexit itself, thankfully, we discuss the nature of the Brexit Party. It was founded in 2018 by Nigel Farage and Catharine Blaiklock, who was promptly forced to resign after tweeting that “Islam equals submission to raping men”. Richard Tice was the obvious candidate then to become its Chairman after having formed Leave.eu in the 2016 referendum and became an MEP in 2019.
The Brexit Party has a strange existence; it only has three listed members and everyone else can be a registered supporter after paying £25.
There is no way to vote for candidates for election or party leadership more generally. The Brexit party does not list any policies on its website, even after Nigel Farage in June 2019 announced a “full slate would be coming soon”. Why is that? “We have many policies”, he answers before saying, “the thing about policies is that you don’t want to release them all at the same time, otherwise people don’t spot them.”
This merit a discussion of what actually – beyond Brexit obviously – is his organisation’s policies. He says domestic policies would include “scrapping HS2 (High Speed 2 rail) … not sending £39 billion to Brussels [and] redirecting 50% of our foreign aid budget back into the UK”. This would amount to “£200 billion” that could be used to pay for “investment in the regions… that have been woefully left behind”. The total combined money saved from scrapping HS2 and diverting half of the foreign aid back to the UK would actually amount to just under £105 billion. The £39 billion mentioned not going to Brussels is a one-off saving from the UK refusing to pay commitments it had previously agreed to.
He goes on to propose reform of student tuition loans by abolishing interest – “students are getting ripped off”. He wants to “invest in entrepreneurs”, which goes hand in hand with the recently announced headline policy to abolish inheritance tax. “We want to abolish the most unfair and unpopular tax in the UK – the Inheritance tax.” Tice is adamant that this tax – which only 4% of the UK pay – is a tax on the “middle classes” and an “aspirational tax”.
“We want to abolish the most unfair and unpopular tax in the UK – the Inheritance tax.” Tice is adamant that this tax – which only 4% of the UK pay – is a tax on the “middle classes” and an “aspirational tax”.”
This leads to a discussion on what broader vision the Brexit Party has for Britain. With the Party often billing itself as an anti-elite party, does Tice desire any electoral reform? “Absolutely”, he replies, “we believe in the ballot box. We have talked about political reform in all our conferences. In Australia, it is compulsory to vote. I think that is a great thing. If you are in a safe Labour constituency and you are a Conservative, your vote is wasted forever. We in the Brexit Party like referendums and we need to have national discussions about the House of Lords and proportional representation”.
Does this appreciation of referendums extend to a second referendum on the EU? “No. People were told we have to leave, and we have to leave. If we renege on this deal and tell people they were too old or thick to understand, we break that deal.”
Would these proposals be in a manifesto? “Manifesto is a tainted word” and we “would have a contract of pledges”; but what is the difference? He concedes that it is about “branding” and what “people would remember”.
This does raise the question again – why are none of these on the website? Tice promises this will be done “very, very soon” and it is all about the timing of a “general election”. “It is just something we haven’t yet done”.
Tice goes on further to describe how policy is created in the Brexit Party. Currently, Nigel Farage forms one-third of its membership so there is no way for there to be transparent debate and approval of policies. There is, however, “an email website” that policies can be submitted through, where they are then “looked at by staff” in a “simple standard corporate structure”.
The Brexit Party arose after Nigel Farage left UKIP.
I ask what Tice thinks the main differences between the Brexit Party and UKIP are, apart from UKIP having more internal democracy. “They have different policies; they are completely different people”. He admits there may be “some overlap” of supporters but also argues that “we have some ex-Labour supporters” as well. Tice wants to return to the point about democracy in the Brexit Party. “Democracy is at the ballot box”, he argues, and “people like what they see in us. That is why we won the last national election (the 2019 European Parliament Elections).” Ironically, it does not seem too important to Tice that there is no internal democracy within the Brexit Party, and thus no internal accountability for any of its leaders.
“Ironically, it does not seem too important to Tice that there is no internal democracy within the Brexit Party, and thus no internal accountability for any of its leaders.”
The Brexit Party is about Brexit – no surprises there. But what does it offer after Brexit, if there is indeed a day where Brexit is not happening? UK electoral politics has not been traditionally kind to single-platform parties. “Look, we set out a simple stall. Trust in democracy and to change politics for the good. We got rid of the worst Prime Minister in history – it is thanks to us that Boris Johnson is there. If this deal goes through, our job is to hold the government to account and make sure we get a simple trade deal.” The Tories are “incompetent” and cannot be trusted to “walk the walk”. In any case, it is “good to extend politics beyond the traditional bloated and complacent two parties” and allow people more choice.
As the interview winds to a close, the point is made that Tice has talked about the need for more referendums. How would he be able to ensure that future ones would not cause so much procedural difficulty? For instance, does he think there was any failure with the campaign he helped lead – in particular, the Breaking Point poster showing Middle Eastern refugees entering Slovenia in 2004, thousands of miles away, and that blocked out the only white person with text. He describes the poster as “tough and sharp”. Unfortunately, there is not enough time to expand on what he means exactly and this vague and worrying answer is all we will get.
Startingly, however, he admits there were “problems with the 2016 referendum”. He thinks that Cameron should have adopted a more “referee approach” rather than down on one side. He also, and more interestingly thinks, that both sides made “daft claims”. Is this him admitting that people were misinformed? “Well no….” he pauses before changing the topic, “turnout was massive and that was a win. The real failure was Westminster politicians not properly following through with the result.”
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