During my years campaigning for Brexit, I’ve bounced around quite a few different organisations in support of the great cause; starting by launching the Daily Express crusade to get Britain out back in 2010, then becoming part of the Ukip insurgency under Nigel Farage which led to that historic 2014 European elections win, before being the only Ukip MEP to back Vote Leave rather than its Faragist rival to be the designated Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum.
At each turn, I’ve tried my best to put country before party, asking myself what would be the best thing for the attainment of Brexit rather than the most comfortable thing for me. In 2010-15, that meant putting the squeeze on David Cameron when he was already in a tight spot thanks to the coalition having sent many habitual Lib Dem voters into the Labour column. In 2016, it meant backing the campaign best equipped to capture millions of middle-of-the-road, middle class swing voters during the referendum.
At the start of this year, I naturally cheered on Nigel Farage and the Brexit party before – and during – their brilliant European elections campaign. It was obvious the Tories needed to be totally humiliated in order to be persuaded to drop Theresa May and install a genuine Brexiteer.
So when I tell you that I find myself now cheering on the Government as it tries to get its new Brexit deal through the Commons, do not imagine for a moment it is out of any lifelong deference to the Tory brand.
In fact, the Brexit years have certainly further highlighted the traditional flaws as well as merits of the Conservative party. Many, if not most, of its parliamentarians have adopted stances on Brexit at any given time designed primarily to advance their careers rather than their principles. Some have been utterly shameless.
But there is no doubt what is the best thing for Brexit now – and that is for every Brexiteer in the land to get behind Boris Johnson as he tries to push his new deal through Parliament and take us out on 31 October.
It is truly remarkable that he has secured an agreement at all given that he was nobbled by the Benn “Surrender” Act, had other traditional prime ministerial prerogatives stripped away from him by a ruthless Remain establishment and faced the most intense and hostile media onslaught I can remember any leading figure suffering in my 25 or so years on the political scene.
It is even more remarkable that the agreement he has reached honours in almost every respect the spirit and arguments of the 2016 Leave campaign. The disgrace of a UK-wide indefinite backstop (erroneously known as the Northern Ireland backstop) locking us into EU rules in perpetuity with no release mechanism other than the EU’s permission is gone. It has been replaced by measures limited to Northern Ireland and out of which the population of Northern Ireland can vote themselves, should they so desire.
Despite May having tamely acceded to the EU’s sequencing demands, thereby chucking away most of our leverage and then creating a hung parliament where there had been a Tory majority before, Johnson has somehow hauled our country free of the morass. Control of our laws, borders and money is coming home. Our future will be as free-trading partners with the EU but on our own trajectory. There are many additional matters now to be decided by a reinvigorated national democratic process and not locked into “the closest possible relationship with the EU” (May’s stock phrase whenever anyone in Brussels asked what she actually wanted).
The still tricky issues of fishing and defence co-operation will be settled in future relationship talks in which the UK will be represented by a PM who the rest of the EU clearly regard as an equal rather than a pushover.
While I would personally be quite content still to leave the EU on no deal/WTO terms at the end of the month, I now find myself reflecting that, on balance, the terms of Boris Johnson’s deal are to be preferred.
This has, I would contend, been the most brilliant prime ministerial episode since the Falklands War and leaves the occupant of Downing Street potentially on the cusp of a decade in power. He has shown raw political courage and grace under fire. He has been clear-sighted and used to the very maximum effect all the room for manoeuvre he was left with after the parliamentary Lilliputians did their best to tie him up in knots.
We are not there yet. But as someone always ready to take issue with anyone who impedes or imperils the cause and to support anybody who helps it along, I am quite clear that Brexit has benefited from two great acts of rescue in 2019. The first by Nigel Farage and the second by Boris Johnson. Come Hallowe’en I hope to be drinking to them both.
Patrick O’Flynn is chairman of the London branch of the Social Democratic Party. He was previously a Ukip MEP and director of communications for the party