An outgoing MEP has warned the Government they can no longer hide behind the EU as a scapegoat now that the UK has left the bloc, as he explores what happens next for the Brexit Party now.
Jake Pugh, who was elected as MEP in Yorkshire and the Humber for the Brexit Party just last year, has spent the last few days packing up his Brussels office ready to return to the UK yesterday.
But even though Brexit was his aim all along - he first ran for the Eurosceptic Referendum Party in Richmond Park in 1997 - his views towards how the UK used its EU membership have changed.
“I’m pretty calm,” he said. “I think some feel very differently and part of it is because I work as a consultant so I’m used to doing a project for nine months then moving on. On a political level I’m really delighted, for obvious reasons.”
“British politicians of the left and right always played the eurosceptic card to a more or lesser extent. If you blame Brussels for 40 years, don’t be surprised when people want to come out.
“Now politicians are properly accountable, we can’t blame Brussels anymore, and that’s a good thing.
“I’m not saying I think the EU is any better than I thought it was - in fact I’ve got more detail of why it’s anti-democratic - but I’ve also realised the British state really has not taken the best advantage of the membership.
“There’s lots of things to criticise the EU about, but British politicians have exploited that and hid behind it.”
He said in recent days there had been “much more of an edge” around the European Parliament.
“Part of it is the realisation that the UK is leaving after such a long time,” he said.
And he said he felt Brussels politicians were privately feeling they had not got what they wanted out of the arrangement.
“Now it looks like - and I hate the phrase - but the UK is getting a harder Brexit, is that what the EU27 wanted? No way.
“So I don’t buy this narrative that they’ve done a good job, because we are going to diverge.”
“We’ve [the Brexit Party] tried not to be rubbing anyone’s faces in it.”
Asked what the future was for the party now that, in the Prime Minister’s words, they had got Brexit done.
And Mr Pugh said his view had changed, and he felt the party would at least for some months have a role in ensuring Brexit remained on track.
“The Government wants it all to go into the dark, I can understand why,” he said.
“The Labour Party is not going to have a leader for three months, the Liberal Democrats for longer. I think quite rightly the media will want some sort of commentary, so I think initially [the party will remain active], at least for a couple of months depending on what happens and whether it continues to be a story.
“I think we are going to have more of a voice, as a lot of the pro-European, and the anti-European too, pressure groups are shutting down, because some think ‘job done’.”
Looking over the last few years Mr Pugh said he “never had any doubt” the country would leave the EU.
“Particularly being in Yorkshire and the Humber because when you’re out there so many constituencies were many of the highest leave constituencies in the country.”
Now, he said, Brexit should be “an enabler for change”.
“The Brexit vote was about so much more than leaving the EU,” he said. “Whenever people were saying it’s taking too long, I don’t buy into any of that stuff at all.”
He said the length of time was needed to shake up the old political system and he added: “All these other issues that sat behind the Brexit vote have now bubbled to the surface, they wouldn’t have been realised without Brexit.”