THE people of Yorkshire are nothing if not good judges of character and I’ve no doubt they will see Nigel Farage for the man he is when he leads his “Brexit Betrayal” protesters through Wetherby on March 19, and on to Pontefract the following day. Leave Means Leave, the organisation where he sits as vice-chair, is not short of cash so they will put on quite a show.
No amount of grandstanding will, however, be able to disguise the fact that Brexit is already hitting the north of England hard. Manufacturing in Yorkshire and the Humber is down as the year begins with confidence lower than in any other region.
Theresa May’s Stronger Towns Fund for the regions – aka “the Brexit bribe” – amounts to £266m a year, a paltry sum compared to the European Regional Development and European Social Funds to these same regions which amounted to £1.56bn a year.
Meanwhile, the studies prepared by the Department for Exiting the European Union show in Yorkshire and the Humber that a Brexit with Single Market membership would cause a 1.5 per cent decline in economic growth, a five per cent decline with a free trade deal and a seven per cent decline with no-deal. The North-East could face a 16 per cent hit on the bottom line, with the West Midlands not faring much better.
Farage’s narrative of “betrayal” pre-supposes that Brexit was never given a chance. The truth is Westminster has been fixated with little else but trying to make it work for almost three years and it has pushed other vital issues such as the NHS, housing and policing down the agenda. And money was no object: since the referendum, £4.2bn was budgeted for planning for it, including £2bn more recently added for no-deal planning.
Until recently, there was always a basic integrity to our politics and I do not blame anyone for voting Leave on the basis of the promises that politicians such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and, yes, Mr Farage, made to them. It will be good for farmers we were told, it would be the easiest thing in the world to sign trade deals with other countries, there’d be £350m extra a week for the NHS and there would be jobs for all.
It was clear soon enough after the result when Mr Farage attended a lavish victory party at the Ritz hotel in London – hosted by the billionaire Brexit-backing Barclay brothers, who also happen to own the Daily Telegraph – that this new ideology was about the few and not the many.
Ask yourself about Mr Johnson and his motivations. He takes home £270,000 a year from the Barclays to write a weekly column for their newspaper and £80,000 as a backbench MP. Where do you think his loyalties lie?
Mr Farage’s funding is more opaque, but you might care to ask him – if you are allowed to get near to him – to disclose the identity of the businessman who he said funded his private jet to Strasbourg last month. You might wish to ask him, too, why he is a “person of interest” in the US counter-intelligence investigation that is looking into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
For all its faults, I am clear about what the European Union stands for. I see it as the greatest, and most successful socialist project of all time.
It has an honourable tradition of protecting workers’ rights and it’s big and bold enough to take on global giants such as Facebook, Google and Rupert Murdoch and to see to it that even the most powerful in the world pay their fair share of taxes.
I saw for myself the human cost of Brexit when I travelled around the country last summer talking to people about their concerns and anxieties about what was happening. It was heartbreaking to hear the fear in their voices as they spoke about their jobs, funding for their local services and how children of EU citizens who have contributed to the UK for over 20 years were being made to feel unwelcome.
Quitting the EU was never going to be the answer to all of our problems any more than Brexit was ever a true workers’ movement.
The comparison that is already being made between the Pied Piper Mr Farage and the Jarrow crusade that took place more than 80 years ago is nothing short of obscene. There were no men on that great and noble crusade in blazers and garishly-coloured trousers who had formerly worked as commodities traders or who just turned up for a photo opportunities at the start and finish. All they wanted was a fair chance.
Still, I would say to anyone who gets a chance to see Mr Farage to hear him out respectfully, but do please take the chance to ask him the questions that matter. Above all things, look the man in the eye and ask him to spell out how Brexit could ever have benefited your communities.
Gina Miller is a leading Remain campaigner. She tweets via @thatginamiller. If you would like to support her Lead Not Leave organisation, go to Read here